Tried by Fire by K. Rose Quayle
ink on paper
14 x 11 inches
year created: 2021
“This is a symbolic piece about individual identity and mental illness and identity within the mental health system. The numbers in the piece all have significance to me - the ICD-9 DSM diagnostic codes are my own diagnoses, portrayed as livestock tags because of their reduction of identity in the health and mental health system to a set of symptoms that may or may not have even applied throughout the years. The number tattooed on the neck is the first patient number assigned to me during her first 302 admission which followed through several admissions. The title, Tried by Fire, refers to ECT treatment in which I experienced mild traumatic brain injury and permanent memory loss/personality changes which deeply altered my sense of personal identity going forward. The title also refers to picking back up after years of exclusion, abuse and loss and establishing a new identity as a mentally ill person with no shame.”
Artist’s Connection to Theme: During the pandemic and lockdown I found myself surrounded by neurotypical people flooding into my local mental health system and causing resources to break entirely. At first I was open and tried to help people, to reassure them that persons with mental illness went through a world filled with anxiety, depression and paranoia all the time, so it was possible to survive. Then my very good friend died by suicide and I found myself putting up the barriers between myself and those around me. I was full of rage - all the anger of the last 25 years over the mental health system failing me and seemingly not changing one bit consumed me. I quit therapy, I withdrew from all my mental health advocacy. Eventually I began to channel my anger into my power, and found that I could take this broken identity put on me by years of hospitalization and use it to help others with mental illness because we were talking about mental illness left, right and center throughout 2020 but it wasn't doing anything that I could see for the existing mentally ill. Taking up all my labels and history, I found myself strong among my peers, authentic and with a structured rage to power me to show others how to survive their past and their present. This piece is a self-portrait, if you will, of myself as a person with mental illness who is proud despite labels, unwilling to hide my diagnosis or history outside of my community, strong because of loss, and at peace with who I am as a mad woman and well for the first time in that context.
Image Description: Image is a black and white ink drawing of the side profile of a girl, eyes closed and gently smiling, she is wearing a headscarf and over this, old-style ECT paddles. The band reads "Mit Feuer Versucht" (Tried by fire in German). On the scarf can be seen the faint outline of a brain. From the back of the scarf are multiple flames rather than hair. In the girl's ear are several tags like those used to identify livestock, printed with ICD-9 diagnosis codes from the DSM. On the girl's neck is tattooed the number 5824.
A New Orleans native, K. Rose Quayle studied Graphic Design. Her artwork focuses mainly on representing the authentic experience of living with mental illness to validate others with similar experience and to educate the greater community. Published in mental health focused publications such as Open Minds Quarterly, Asylum Magazine and Y'inz Mad? She is also the author /illustrator of three books dealing with mental illness.
Frame: 20x16" matted frame.
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