KATHARSIS – One Man’s Journey Through Mental Health

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Amarno Inai is a 24 year old artist from Birmingham.

Saturday night saw The Gap in Birmingham transformed in to a gallery showcasing the best of Amarno’s ‘Katharsis’ work.

‘Katharsis’ is a journey through Amarno’s mental health, and what methods he used to cope. The work displays feeling of anxiety, depression and even glimpses into an existential crisis and identity crisis, all happening at the time the art was created.

Under each piece, the cards had individual songs on them, that matched the mental and emotional states the artist was in when creating the pieces.

The exhibition was accompanied by a Q & A, with Amarno Inai and Sandra Griffiths, founder of Red Earth Collective.

Sandra started off by introducing Amarno and his project:

“It’s very rare to be in a space like this where we see work like this, where someone shares very openly and honestly their mental health journey. It is my privilege over the last 25 years, working in psychiatric units, prisons and in the community, to meet some incredible black people, both men and women, who have found ways to recover from an often very difficult mental health crisis.”

“I’ve always been very struck by how powerful the arts can be as a way of expressing difficult emotions as well as fantastic emotions, but difficult emotions at a time when you cannot talk.”

It was clear that this project meant a lot to Amarno as he broke down into tears and told the audience “I really appreciate you coming out and sharing the vision with me.”

He explained how much this exhibition means to him and how it came about for him:

“I sat in my bed two years ago, and I was like, I want to put this exhibition on, but then, the negative thoughts and my overthinking told me ‘you can’t do this’ ‘no one’s going to come’ ‘who do you think you are that you are capable of doing something like this’ and I proved to my inner self that you can do this and through the spirit, through what God said, ‘he’s gonna do it’ and I fulfilled that purpose today.”

Amarno shares his favourite piece on display.

Amarno says that he started “drawing for pleasure” and had no idea that it would become such an integral coping mechanism for him.

“I never made that connection that it was actually helping me on a subconscious level. I only figured it out when I was really at crisis point and I was in my bed for 2 or 3 days just staring at the ceiling, and then, for some reason, an opportunity came up for me to take a psychedelic. It was able to alleviate the overthinking that I was going through and I got really creative. I went to draw, and then woke up sober, when I saw the drawings it was a shock to myself, but I identified straight away that I had this inside me, I was able to visually see what I was feeling and experiencing.”

“By drawing, I was able to identify and see my feelings, I could see objectively now.”

There is underlying spirituality in his paintings, as he describes how he was brought up in a Christian household and how as he grew up he started to explore other belief systems.

“My foundation is Christianity; I was taught the Christian fundamentals. My spiritual view has always been you know, Christ and the Holy Spirit being the power of god and him healing you and through that power you were able to accomplish all and do all and that was my foundation. As I got older I explored different things, I explored Buddhism, Tao, Shintau and a cultism.”

There is one painting ‘DIAGNOSIS’, that describes his coping mechanisms. He talks about the ways in which he used different mechanisms and which ones worked for him.

“Psychedelics was one, but I knew that it was not sustainable, but it was a good alleviator to help me balance my mind and to start thinking about more sustainable means to cope with my mental health.

“So I tried therapy, that didn’t work, the motivational videos worked to an extent, but the more I started learning about how the mind manifests things into reality I started to stop dwelling on negativity, the positivity that will come from that will put me on the right path.”

Amarno wanted these paintings to resonate with people, and to let them see how they are feeling inside. When showing these ideas for the first time, his reaction was positive.

He described how he got mostly positive reactions to his initial work from the people around him.

A lot of them said “oh wow!”, “so what does this mean?” and I’ll explain it they will say “yeah I get that”. Amazingly enough we would start conversations and make new friends from it, or even, we were being therapists to each other, and then we went away feeling glad and happy and saying, “that was a good discussion that we just had there”.

He says that the best response he got was when he showed his work to other black males. He stated that “being a black male sometimes is very lonely, because, for one, living in Britain you’ve got to deal with a ‘racist society’”, as he refers to the stereotyped negative images of a black man and how they can be viewed as a potential predator or a drug dealer.

“Especially with the idea that, if you go into certain areas, you are gonna get cut or stabbed up’, its hard, because things that pertain to us where you want to be able to speak, you can’t, because you are just thinking ‘ah this man is going to cut me’. So from showing my art to other black men we were able to start conversations, and delve into each others lives, it was very positive.”

Amarno wants this exhibition to “serve as an initiation to conversation”.

“People have looked at the work and they have resonated with it. Some of it may resonate with you, or all of it may resonate with you, but you now can see a visual representation of how you are feeling. It starts the conversation, and it helps us to get on that road to healing.”

The night was concluded my Amarno sharing the ideas behind ‘Mandem Matter’.

“It bore out of someone wearing a jacket that said “stop killing the mandem”, and I was like oh that’s a sick slogan. It just fell into place really, I made the idea that black lives matter, and stop killing the mandem, into mandem matter, so that’s where it came from really. The focus is basically about using the arts, whether that be spoken word, music, visual arts to put on exhibitions exploring mental health.

Mandem Matter bore out of my desire to connect with people who are of my affinity so that we can collectively heal and build strong men, heal these bruised men, I don’t consider them broken beause as long as you are living you have still got a chance to change.”

Amarno outlined his thoughts about where he will go from here, including University, NCS and of course “taking a breather and reflecting on this exhibition.”

“The subject matter is so mentally and emotionally taxing, but its been a pleasure and I thank you for taking time out of your busy Saturday to come, because for me, the money thing doesn’t matter, what is the true spiritual value is you time, and your attention. You can’t get those things back, so for me, when spend time to talk to me for 5 minutes or whatever, I say, thank you for your time, because you aren’t getting that back.”

He explains his reasons behind picking Birmingham as the place to display his art.

The night ended with a spoken word piece, written and performed by Amarno himself.

Katharsis is open at The Gap until the 6th of March.

The Gap is open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 11am – 5pm and can be found here:

498 Moseley Road

Balsall Heath, Birmingham

B12 9AH

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