Expressed emotions: SADD hosts first annual mental health art gallery

Bradley Jang (12) and Lynna Le (12) stand in front of a wall covered with words. Poetry, to be exact.

Behind them, filling the mundane white walls of the classroom, are over a dozen paintings and drawings: an art gallery.

In one drawing stands a man covering his face, withering flowers stemming from his body. Another painting depicts a young girl against the floor, deadpan, and yet on the other side of the floor, there stands the same young girl, baring her teeth, screaming in agony.

Amidst all this, Jang and Le exchange banter, laughing and arguing playfully over what song to play next. It’s in stark contrast with the pain and fear emanating from some of the art.

Contrary to her sarcastic jokes and her twittering laughter, Le has been battling mental illness for a while. She said when she joined Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), she felt she had finally found a safe space to help with her healing.

“My friend told me about [SADD] when I was especially in need, and so I decided to join it,” Le said. “I was impressed just because I didn’t think there would be a club that would get on such a personal level of students. I really appreciated that.”

She said that, later, after joining the club, she was delighted to hear that the club’s president, Jang, was planning to host an art gallery.

“With the art gallery, we are just trying to get people to express themselves,” Jang said. “That’s why I tried to bring in all sorts of artists who I knew painted or drawn-”

“And written!” Le added.

“-and yes, written, about their experience.”

Jang said he reached out to many of his friends whom he knew had been inspired by their struggles with mental illness to create art.

“I’m not really much of an artist myself, but I just thought [the art gallery] would be really nice,” Jang said. “I guess a lot of people believed in the same thing. We ended up with 15 art pieces from about 10 different artists.”

Le said she was surprised how many people participated in the gallery.

“Who did you bribe to get all of those?” she said.

“I didn’t bribe anyone! I swear!” Jang said, laughing. “I did talk to Opstad, and he’s been a huge help with this thing. He brought in a lot of people to this project.”

Jang said the club attracted less attention than he wanted last year, citing that he and other members had a hard time getting students engaged. But he said after being elected president, he is determined to change that.

“Last year we did presentations, and that didn’t get much of a response from students,” Jang said. “But this year I wanted to engage the students more. Now our presentations are less about a bunch of slides and more about discussion and getting our members to speak out.”

He said his goals have shifted from educating students about mental health, and instead, focusing helping them to express their emotions.

“It’s definitely less about raising awareness and more about getting [students] to talk. Students nowadays, they’re quite well aware of our mental health resources, but they obviously don’t reach out that often,” Jang said.

Le, on the other hand, still feels there is a lack of awareness at Westview.

“I don’t think students reach out often because they don’t want to approach the issue,” Le said. “Honestly, when I became depressed, I didn’t really even know who to contact. [All I could find] were only the [SADD] pamphlet I saw at the Wolverine Center and that was it.”

Yet, both said that they agreed that students needed a place to express what they were going through in a non-judgmental and safe space.

And so, the idea of an art gallery was born.

The gallery was held Feb. 1 in room D-103. More than two dozen spectators, including the artists, viewed the artworks over the course of the lunch period.

Le had multiple pieces, both drawings and poetry, displayed in the gallery, but she said her favorite piece was one of her drawings.

“I have a piece called ‘Eroded,’ where I have this dude, he’s covering his face, and there’s flowers sprouting out of him, dying and falling,” Le said. “I drew that while I was depressed, and I felt like it represented how I felt—that I was fading away and that I was eroding.”

Le said she sees art as somewhat therapeutic, and finds it to be the most effective way of communicating her struggle with mental health, specifically depression.

“Art helped with expression because I could not express [my mental state] in that time,” Le said. If I drew it, it would make me feel maybe a little better, but also, it just made my feelings tangible, it made them real.”

Le also said that she hopes her work and the work of other artists can help others struggling with mental illness.

“I really hope that the people who came in recognized something in our art because before [I joined SADD] I would really look for things that resonated with me,” she said. “It helps a lot when I see any sort of poem, any sort of line, any sort of word that makes me say ‘Oh yeah, I felt what you felt too.’”

Jang acknowledges that because many people’s experiences with mental health are different, their art will differ greatly as well.

“The big thing about this gallery is that it can be a very positive depiction of your experience with your mental health,” he said. “But the most important thing is that it’s an honest depiction of your experience. Both the good and the bad.”