A mother’s diary

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I spent some time going through a book called “Diary Drawings” with my daughter Jennifer on Monday. The work by artist/author Bobby Baker (with daughter Dora Whittuck), subtitled “Mental illness and me,” won the 2011 Mind Book of the Year Award. It was first published in London in 2010, and it’s been impossible to find in local brick and mortar book shops — so Jennifer and James made the trek to ASU’s Hayden Library to find a copy for me.

The photograph of Baker adjacent to Marina Warner’s “Chronicle of a Life Repaired” (which introduces readers to Baker and her work) shows the artist standing with feet planted in a pair of casserole dishes. She’s wearing a skirt made of carrots, a top made of meat and potatoes and headgear made of three leafy greens. Before there was Gaga, there was Baker.

Warner writes that “BB’s audiences have always known that she has had excruciating troubles”– citing several of Baker’s works. A film called “Spitting Mad” and performance pieces like “Drawing on a Mother’s Experience,” “Take a Peek!” and “Box Story.” “Diary Drawings” follows Baker’s journey through borderline personality disorder.

Some elements get more ink than others in the collection of works culled for “Diary Drawings.” Blood. Flowing tears. Food. Confinement. Other people. And coffee mugs. My favorites feature a torso bearing a triangle-shaped wound, a woman watching discarded thoughts move down a conveyer belt, a group therapy session awash in muddy colors and the first pink blossom on a delicate tree. Jennifer took a liking to “Day 8” — because its flow of tears “looks like a veil.”

The book concludes with a pair of profound reflections — one by Baker, and another by her daughter. Baker’s “For the Record” discusses her own artistic inklings, the effect of mental illness on her family, the subject of art as therapy and reflections on the prejudice still plaguing those living with mental illness.

Dora Whittuck’s “Telling & Keeping Quiet” notes that “one of the most debilitating aspects of so-called mental illness is the embarrassment and fear it generates in others.” Dora and her brother Charlie were “scarcely more than children” when Baker’s diary drawings were born.

“Diary Drawings” is a window into the worlds of art, family and mental illness. It’ll inspire you to consider how your own life might look in drawings (and maybe even encourage you to start your own diary drawings), and to be more supportive of friends and family who face mental illness each day.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to explore Baker’s drawings online (you can also order the book online), here to experience “Bobby Baker’s Daily Life” and here to enjoy photography by Andrew Whittuck (photographer for “Diary Drawings”). Click here to learn more about SAMHSA’s “Caring for Every Child’s Mental Health” campaign (May 9 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day).

Coming up: Art meets Mother’s Day


One response to “A mother’s diary

  1. I admire the work of Abraham A. Low in helping mental patients and reducing the stigma of mental illness. Thanks for raising my awareness of children’s mental health day.

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