• Abbas A Malakar

Shreya Roy Chowdhury: Imaging Disabilities

Shreya Roy Chowdhury

Mental health has not been an issue for consideration even after such magnificent discoveries in the field of psychology, psychoanalysis and psychiatry because our masculine society has failed to see it as a material problem. It has continuously been regarded as a non-reality. A series of made-up problems to forego different social and personal responsibilities. Admitting mental disorders is a sign of weakness, of un-masculine behavior. It is to be discouraged and, in case of a slip up, dismissed. We are shamed. Stigmatization of mental disorders is a social problem. Although certain classes inhabiting the metro cities have ceased to be so downright stiff, a huge population is still complacent in this unfair masculine belief system. Most of India is simply oblivious of any need for mental health care. Education on mental health and the need for psychiatric help, if and when one needs it, is absent from our schools. It is nowhere on the list of things most parents talk to their children about.

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I have been an admirer of Shreya Roy Chowdhury’s works for quite some time. Since I found her account on Instagram, and got hooked. Being a regular consumer of her works, I have found her to be diverse in her ability to create designs. Like most people, although she may be fiddling with various different kinds of images at a time, she generally posts her works in a series. Each series generally conforms to a similar set of values in color, form, texture, balance and basic sense of design. She formally studied architecture though her calling lay in design. Her education, she related, pushed her towards digital art. All of her works begin on paper with lines and scratches like most of us but she feels much more comfortable finalizing works on digital mediums.

Images help to connect to and feel, in some way, what we, the unaffected, can neither sense nor see. The lack of either sympathy or empathy for something as common as these disorders is probably due to its apparent invisibility. This is what made me interested in her works in the first place. I was aware of a constant rise of social media trends in mental health awareness.

This series is called “Mental Disorder in Colours”. She is not what words people use when relating mental health problems. Whether it is ‘disability’ or ‘disorder’. Whatever the correct medical term may be, what she concerns herself with is the dismissal of the taboo that is still attached to talking about mental health. Either with friends or family members. She wants the subject to be openly accepted. Children should be able to talk to their parents without shame and the latter should provide the space for such discussion. She hopes her works can help.

Her chief goal has been to make the images more realistic and approachable.

This was not something she initially set out to create. She began with a logo design for a customer. Initially these were ideas about circles- her trying to understand how to use shapes to represent humans, emotions and activities. These developed into more shapes such as squares and how they could be combined with each other to create and depict more complex human situations. In trying to understand how to truly show feelings through patterns she turned to Bauhaus works and German designs. These along with Concepción Studios remain her chief inspirations.

Shreya Roy Chowdhury: Depression

The images are very simple and attractive. A small explanation above a personalized geometric representation of the disability in question. Keeping with the title of the series, the images incorporate eight colors in total, not including black and white. The colors are not for fun but for simplicity and ease of communication. A break from portrayals in black and white or generic dark shades. On her blog each image has a number below them. Scrolling down we go from 06. to 01. Unlike Jill Simpson’s research which tries to quantify symptoms of mental disabilities through data collection and visualized them, Shreya created her images based solely on personal feelings and creative intrigue. Still, to me they present themselves as diagrams. Private yet shared compositions of a lived experience.

Jill Simpson's work

There is a sense of order in these images. Order that we lack when consumed by these problems. She is herself not a stranger to that kind of chaos and neither is she incapable of portraying chaos in her works. So why this contradiction? She has consciously tried to be break a stigma. To be different from the trend of portraying chaos and trouble as the accepted ideas when relating with mental disabilities such as in the works of Igor Kupec or Shawn Coss. These are images of an internalized experience. She is not trying to make the audience fear the problem or pity her plight. She wants them to be understanding and appreciating. Having created this series, she feels she has made room for people around her to approach and talk to her.

Shreya Roy Chowdhury: Plants 1 (one of her more chaotic expressions)

The one thing the she comes back to when talking about visualizing mental health in images is that these must be more and more personal. For those comfortable doing this, the visuals have to be very personal as they are for Shreya. Although there is a boom in these images all over the social media websites, most of them try to generalize the disorders and therefore contribute to the problem rather than solve them. These generalizations tend to spread a superficial conception of the real disability. Everyone lives through their own unique experiences even though they may share the problem. If artists start to depict their individual experiences rather than try to portray the whole spectrum, understandings would grow more organically and much faster.

Shreya Roy Chowdhury: Anxiety Disorder

This is a short series of only 6 images. It deals with only the most common problems- without denying the existence of a spectrum of other disabilities. Anorexia Nervosa, Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia. 6 concepts she understood strongly and felt confident about. One of the problems of generalizing and trying to visualize a large spectrum of mental illnesses is that the artist will not be able to personally relate to most of them. Depicting these illnesses incorrectly does more harm in every way than not depicting them at all. Igor Kupec’s “Touretee” is a prime example of how little things matter. First, its written Tourette and most importantly, very few people who have Tourette’s present in such extremes. Most are not even properly diagnosed because they present so very mildly. Visualizing the problem as such a generalized extreme makes it harder for most to accept that anything different or less chaotic is still a problem. The wheel of social disinterest and insensitivity keeps on churning.

By Igor Kupec

During the last decade we’ve seen a constant growth of institutions and organizations on social media spreading awareness about mental disorders. I can say, through personal experience, social consciousness is increasing. This has contributed to a large number of people finally appreciating and seeking help for various psychological issues. We’ve also become more careful and sensitive when communicating with people who have faced or are facing such problems in their lives. Therapy, almost non-existent a generation ago, is now a socially agreed upon and growing concept. The growth is further helped by the process of trying to solidify these problems in the public eye. This is a global process occurring through the desire and hard work of thousands of creators. Shreya is not alone but part of this very movement. They tell us that these problems are valid. These problems are shared. This is real and serious.

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My question is if I’m having problems why do they have to be submitted to a third party for validation? Why does society still demand palpability of these problems through concrete visual and material proof for me to be able to seek help? Is it not enough just to say I am having problems? That I am in pain and I need help?

Shreya's Blog:


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