Separation: An Examination of Mental Suffering

In the exploration of the human experience, artists channel their innermost stirrings of rejection, mourning, loneliness, and fear into art, creating salient works that force viewers to empathize and relate to a shared human pain. Separations: An Examination of Mental Suffering is a compilation of some of the most powerful demonstrations of expressing this pain. The exhibition contains both representative pieces that offer a more literal depiction of suffering, and abstract pieces that provide a more complex look at pain and its effects. In highlighting suffering, these works evoke empathy by framing psychological pain as a human commonality rather than an individual struggle, making it clear that pain is isolating only as much as the individual allows it to be. FWIS 134

Through simplistic yet startling imagery, Ai Weiwei creates a piece about social disjunction. The central middle finger is starkly juxtaposed with the clean lines of the skyline across the river, illustrating a separation from structured society, both physically and mentally. The grayscale and dark colors impart a sense that societal rejection can be isolating and mentally jarring. -Nik
A marble bust of the satyr Marsyas twists in pain, silently crying out. The facial expression of the satyr provides a stark contrast to typically stoic, ancient busts. In Greek mythology, the satyr Marsyas challenged Apollo to a music contest, but Marsyas’s hubris lost him both the contest and his life. Permoser’s vivid depiction of Marsyas’s mental and physical anguish prompts the viewer to examine the pain that comes from his own flaws. -Denise
In Christ on the Cross, the naked, elongated figure of Christ is crucified, eyes upturned to God. El Greco contrasts a dark, stormy sky with the pale, luminescent body of Christ, creating an ominous, tense mood. Skulls and bones lay at the base of the cross, indicating Christ’s triumph over pain, death, and the physical world. Christ’s physical isolation also emphasizes his separation from popular religious ideology. -Denise
Ben Quilty’s expressionist painting of a former military Captain lying naked and prone is a study of juxtaposition and mental suffering. Captain S, a strong, robust man is portrayed in a very vulnerable state, echoing the pain of PTSD and remembrances of war. This contrast emphasizes the disconnect between physical and mental wellbeing. Exuberant brushstrokes and reddish tones evoke a sense of rawness and gore, like an open wound. -Denise
This dramatic ink-on-paper work is a hyperrealistic portrayal of a horse who has lost his rider, presumably in a heroic act of battle. Draping the long, red cloak over the horse, Sun Hao creates dark shadows suggesting loss and emptiness. Historically, Chinese culture has protected animals, especially horses and cattle, and treated them with respect. This sheds light on the compassionate portrayal of the horse’s grief over the loss of his rider. -Kari Leigh
In this fiery piece, de Szyszlo reflects on the Incan legend, Inkarri. The legend says that as the Spanish conquistadors slayed the final Incan king, the king cursed the Spanish people forever. The pain felt by the king and all of the Incan people is represented in this piece, as its colors and wispy brush strokes evoke a sense of anger at the injustices Incans faced. This pain supersedes the individual level, as it reflects the suffering of an entire people. The foreboding, dark central shape symbolizes the curse that now haunts the Spanish forever. -Nik
In Rodin’s Gates of Hell, a semi-abstracted, bronze figure sits in a collapsed position. This figure embodies the suffering of being denied entrance into heaven. The featureless figure, serves as a symbol for all people, expanding the relevance to an audience of all humans. On top of the pain of leaving the physical world, this piece warns all viewers to live piously in order to avoid this horrible despair after death. -Kari Leigh
This piece is a reflection on loss and the persistent absence that is felt by those who have suffered it. The white figure’s arms are positioned so that they cross the body, creating a sense of vulnerability. On the right, a faintly outlined upside-down silhouette represents both memories and the ever-present hole in the figure’s life following the death of his father. -Kari Leigh
The sole figure in this image is shown lying in a bed, hands clasped over his chest. This gesture implies that this apparent “father” is not simply resting, but dead. The black and white palette combined with the exclusion of the figure’s face in the frame creates an atmosphere of loss and detachment. Behind the bed on the wall is a framed item, yet it is darkened to the point of being unidentifiable. This is representative of the memories shared with the dead figure, as they are already fading and will eventually be known only to have existed with no real content. -Kari Leigh
The man, a Guatemalan Native American, stares blankly and forlornly into the camera, his expression contrasting the simplicity of the folded paper to his right. The traditionally Hispanic names next to him show the separation from his heritage and ethnic identity, and conveys the invasive nature of European influence. -Nik
A pale yellow haze falls over dozens of soldiers suffering from the effects of mustard gas, while the discarded and contorted bodies of their comrades lie all around. The uniformity of their military garb creates a loss of identity, magnifying the ostracizing effects deployment can cause, separating them from their countrymen by mental trauma, physical ailments, and cultural disillusionment. -Kari Leigh
Painted in hyperrealist fashion, the two central women emerge from the Willem de Kooning painting behind them, illustrating their transcendence of the previous image of a female. These women, kicking and screaming, fight not only the past, but each other for power in the modern world. They represent the pain social disharmony can cause not only between social groups, but also among them. -Nik
A dark-skinned abstracted woman is viewed in profile, shedding delicate, light blue tears from each eye. Inside each tear is a small picture of a boy’s face, while a phosphorescent inscription identifies the subject as Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence, a teen boy murdered in a racist attack in 1993. The woman’s silent pain and mourning for her son is conveyed by the figure’s tears, while the set face and composed posture communicates the woman’s dignity and strength. -Denise
A half-dressed man disinterestedly smokes a cigarette, while a woman in dark clothing lies curled on a bed, gazing at the man with both longing and trepidation. The physical distance between the two is contrasted with the intimacy of the setting, creating tension between the subjects. As part of Nan Goldin’s exhibition The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, this emotional photograph conveys the imbalance and pain that comes from unhealthy sexual relationships. -Denise
The phrase “Cats in Bag Bags in River” is stenciled onto a white canvas in large, black, capital letters. The phrase was used as code in the 1957 movie Sweet Smell of Success, to indicate the completion of a dirty job. The use of code and the idea of a secret in plain sight creates a feeling of being in the dark. The work creates a sense of mystery, deceit, and anxiety, reminding the viewer of the uneasiness of not knowing. -Denise
A semi-dehumanized figure looks out of a jail cell, locked away from society for the sole reason of his ethnicity. The figure is representative of the aboriginal Australian people who, in the late 20th century, were jailed and suspiciously died by the dozens in prisons. The rampant racism of the time created a rift in the Australian population, ostracizing the aboriginal people from partaking in society. -Kari Leigh
A seemingly gentle figure is central to this photo, turned slightly away from the camera, guarding her vulnerable, burned body. Her eye-contact with the camera create a sense of pleading, as she yearns for the acceptance of her peers and the basic need of intimacy. The juxtaposition of her damaged skin with the floral pattern behind her emphasizes her desire to be “beautiful” like the flowers, as everyone does. -Kari Leigh
In The Downtrodden, Käthe Kollwitz depicts the effects of socioeconomic isolation. The contrast of the white skin against dark clothing and background highlights the emaciated bodies and distressed faces of the family, indicating the hardships this family endures because of their poverty. Their economic state affects not only their physical wellbeing, but also excludes them from society. -Nik
A Chinese man in a white shirt stands in front of a cloud of brown, muddled images from his country’s past. His white shirt signifies the purity of his own actions, while his stance indicates that he must carry the mental burden of his predecessors’ wrongdoings. The man struggles, coming to terms with his culture’s history while attempting to reconcile his ancestors’ actions with his future. -Nik
This piece literally depicts the feeling of death lurking over one’s shoulder, and the weight it brings. The painting, light in the foreground and darker in the back, depicts Böcklin leaning backwards slightly, as if he were being pulled away by death. His separation from the world, however, is only as severe as he allows, as death is only within his mind, and not yet truly physical. His separation from the world, however, is only as much as he allows, as death is only within his mind, and not yet a truly physical entity. -Nik
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