Sunday, March 12, 2006

Churchill statue challenges prejudice

A statue of Britain's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a straitjacket (right) has been unveiled in Norwich to draw attention to the stigma surrounding mental health. The controversial statue had been banned from display in London's Trafalgar Square in 2004 by the Greater London Authority 'on grounds of good taste' despite the Authority's endorsement of the much praised Alison Lapper statue at the same location.

Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson and Cliff Prior, chief executive of mental health charity Rethink, revealed the statue in The Forum as part of an ongoing campaign in the city that is striving to stamp out prejudice, stigma and ignorance surrounding issues such as manic depression.

Churchill was chosen as the subject because despite dealing suffering from manic depression throughout his life, he was able to become Prime Minister, lead the country during World War Two and be voted “The Greatest Briton” in a recent national poll. The controversial sculpture has been criticised as 'absurd and pathetic' by Churchill's grandson Conservative MP Nicholas Soames. In 2004 the Sunday Times famously dubbed bon viveur and gourmand Soames 'Fat Boy Dim' after an incident in a Chinese restaurant.

The statue, which is on display in Norwich's Forum for the next few days, is intended to illustrate how for hundreds of thousands of others the discrimination surrounding manic depression and other forms of severe mental illness acts like a straitjacket, denying people work and other opportunities to participate fully in society.

Chief executive Cliff Prior said: “Mental illness is the last taboo. People deny it, try to hide it and hide from it. We need everyone in Norfolk to break out of the 'stigma straitjacket' and help challenge the three biggest mental health problems: prejudice, ignorance and fear."

“We chose the former Prime Minister to show that mental illness should not be a barrier to leadership, historic significance and popularity. If the general public's negative views on mental health held sway, Winston Churchill would never have been an MP, let alone Prime Minister."

“Rethink's innovative anti-stigma campaign in Norwich is challenging the notion that people with mental health problems cannot hold public office or contribute to the world around them."

“Prejudice, ignorance and fear are the three biggest mental health problems in this country today. They destroy lives, prevent recovery and create discrimination in housing, jobs and health services. They must be defeated.”

Among those who made a massive contribution despite experiencing the 'straitjacket' were:

Robert Schumann, who in 1854 began to hear voices and a terrifying music (auditory hallucinations) in his head. He wrote to his friend the violinist Joseph Joachim: "the night has started to fall." Schumann had always dreaded the possibility of madness, but on February 6 1854 he fled from the house and threw himself in the Rhine. After being rescued he voluntarily agreed to confinement, and the last two years of Schumann's life were spent in an asylum close to Bonn - read more in Rare Romantic Requiems in Avignon.

Nick Drake, whose struggle with depression was one of the catalysts for his extraordinarily moving music. He abandoned live performances in 1971, but went on to record his final masterpiece, Pink Moon, in 1972. He died of an overdose of anti-depressants on 25 November, 1974. The coroner's verdict was suicide, but friends and relatives and acquaintances have always felt that his overdose of prescription drugs was accidental - read more in A Skin Too Few.

David Munrow, who completed the sessions for his last recording, Music of the Gothic Era, in October 1975. He took his own life on 15th May 1976, aged thirty- three. He was known to suffer from depression, and the Coroner's records show that he was deeply upset by the death of both his father and father-in-law who died within a short space of time - read more in David Munrow - Early Music's Pied Piper

Time has told me
You're a rare rare find
A troubled cure
For a troubled mind.
From Nick Drake's lyrics for Time Has Told Me from his first album Five Leaves Left

Visit Rethink's web site via this link. Photo acknowledgements, Statue - Eastern Daily Press, Robert Schumann - Münchner Philharmoniker, Nick Drake photo Tiscali.music Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk.
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Art works and Conference of the birds

2 comments:

Pliable said...

Nice to see this worthwhile story running as the lead story on Topix.net's mental health news feed today (12th March).

Peter said...

As you say, Churchill was able to make an unrivalled contribution despite his depression. Perhaps if he had shown less resolve, he would have ended up as shown in this statue, but to show him in a strait-jacket is to falsify his life. He was not insane and to say he was is an insult.

If the statue has a "message" at all, it is not the one put forward by its creator. It shows a man who suffered on and off from depression in a strait-jacket. Anyone with eyes can see it does not convey the positive message Rethink have tried to attach to it. If the sculptor intended to portray something different, he failed.

Rethink commissioned a work of art that failed to meet their organisation's aims. It happens. They have ended up with a parody of a great man's character which conveys absolutely the wrong message. It seems to say that depressives belong in the asylum.

Back to the drawing board for Rethink. Maybe they should drop the focus on educating the public and concentrate their resources on curing mental illness instead.