Inukjuak centre uses art as therapy for the mentally ill


MONTREAL — All too often, the mentally ill have enormous trouble talking about their suffering. But using art as therapy ó that is, talking about their pain through art ó can sometimes help.

This is exactly what clients at Inukjuak’s Tasiurvik Reintegration Centre, Nunavik’s only facility for the mentally ill, have been doing.

Now some of their therapeutic artwork is on display in downtown Montreal. It’s part of a special art exhibition that mixes work from well-known artists with those who’ve turn to art for therapy.

Eleven of the 200 works in the Parle-moi d’Amour (“speak to me of love”) show are the creations of clients at Inukjuak’s reintegration centre.

This centre, funded by the federal government, officially opened its doors last August. It’s intended to improve conditions for adults with severe and persistent mental health problems or handicaps, and offers them short and long term residential services, a day program, respite care, and crisis intervention.

Art is a daily part of the routine.

“Art does make a difference. It does make a difference when they see the product of their work,” said centre coordinator Beethoven Asante. “It gives them a feeling of self-worth, and it gives them a good feeling.”

The art exhibit’s organizers grouped the Inukjuak contributions together. That’s because they are strikingly differerent from the others on display, distinguished by their use of bright primary colours and empty space.

Dr. Michèle Bélanger from Montreal’s Nôtre-Dame Hospital, who has worked as a psychiatrist in Nunavik for 10 years, said one painting “hit me in the gut.” It’s the likeness of a headless man kneeling, with clouds above him.

“Some [suffering from mental illness] have no words to describe how they feel,” Bélanger reflected. Bélanger supports art therapy as a tool to improve mental health.

“It’s important for them to have fun, too, because they’re in a depressing situation,” she said. The show is a fundraising activity for the “La Fondation Les Impatients” which runs art therapy workshops in Montreal. It’s also designed to make people more sensitive to mental illness, which strikes one out of five Quebecers.

The works, which are also for sale, will remain on display until March 7. They can be seen Tuesdays to Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. at 100 Sherbrooke East in Montreal. No admission is charged.

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