How can an artist turn the worst of experiences into art that is beautiful, powerful, and potentially even life saving?
Tamara Staples’s sister lived with bipolar disorder for many years, before taking her own life with a cocktail of the pharmaceuticals that had been prescribed to treat her. Following her sister’s death, Staples collected the contents of her sister’s medicine cabinet, sorted the thousands of pills, arranged them in patterns, and photographed them. She then translated the photos into wallpaper, a quilt, upholstery, dresses, and drapes to create an entire room covered in pill-based patterns. Staples was doing more than processing her grief and commemorating her sister. She was creating art that reflects the tremendous scope of the poly-pharmacy epidemic in the United States today. (Poly-pharmacy is the simultaneous use of multiple drugs by a single patient; often these drugs cause multiple side effects, leading to yet more drugs being prescribed. The consequences of poly-pharmacy are little understood by patients, and often even prescribing physicians are unaware of the potential dangers in poly-pharmacy).
Blue Sky Gallery in Portland will have Side Effects May Include, an exhibit of Staples’s work, on view for the month of October. In conjunction with Side Effects May Include, on Saturday, October 6 at 3 pm, I will be the moderator for a panel discussion at Blue Sky about mental health and poly-pharmacy. The panel will include Tamara Staples, along with mental health practitioners and individuals with lived experience including John Herold, Director of Puget Sound Hearing Voices; Gina Nikkel, PhD, President and CEO of The Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care; and Sean Syrek, Department Director with the Mental Health Association of Oregon.
The exhibit and the talk are free and open to the public, so please help spread the word.