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World Mental Health Day: Bethlem Gallery artist Kim Noble on sharing her body with 12 other artists

PUBLISHED: 16:19 11 October 2013 | UPDATED: 16:19 11 October 2013

A postcard by Kim Noble's Anon personality

A postcard by Kim Noble's Anon personality

Archant

As her work goes on display in Beckenham's Bethlem Gallery, Kim Noble told the Bromley Times about how painting helps with her dissociative identity disorder.

Kim Noble shares a body with 12 other artists.

Five of them have work on show at Bethlem Gallery’s current exhibition.

Kim has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. She has no memory of the personalities who take over her body.

But painting is a way for her to connect with them.

“When we started painting, it was something I found we all had in common,” said Kim, 52.

“The personalities are all different – one’s a Catholic, for instance, and one likes a drink – but with art we were on the same page.

“If I lose time when I’m in the house on my own, I can go into my art room, see that somebody has painted, and know from the style who has been in.

“It helps me know more about them.

“Before, I would lose two or three hours of a day and wouldn’t know what had happened or who it was.”

In and out of hospital since the age of 14, Kim never had a formal art education – so her abilities were a happy discovery.

“When we first started painting, it was on the back of wallpaper with my daughter’s poster paints,” she said.

Because she has no connection to the other personalities that share her body, organising their art can be tricky.

“I left a note in the art room saying: ‘Can someone do a painting for the mental health exhibition?’,” she explained.

“In the end, I ran out of canvas postcards because so many of my artists wanted to do them.

“Someone will come out and start painting, then another will come out and start something else.

“The painters think [my dissociative identity disorder] is all rubbish and our therapist has lost their marbles. They don’t believe it.

“So what happens is they think they’re sharing a studio with other artists, not realising the other artists are inside them.”

Kim’s painters are among hundreds from different countries who have contributed to the Beckenham gallery’s exhibition Flight of Ideas, organised to coincide with World Mental Health Day this week.

Flight of Ideas showcases more than 300 drawings and paintings produced by artists staying and working in hospitals across four countries.

The pictures are only the size of a postcard – but to the artists, their significance can’t be measured.

“Many of the artists I work with feel creativity is a lifesaving vehicle,” said gallery director Beth Elliott, who led the team that put the exhibition together.

“Some people use it for self expression, and others use it to focus their mind and move away from thoughts about themselves.

“Art lets people get together, be sociable and celebrate talents rather than constantly focusing on illness.

“We try and get service users’ artwork into the ward environments, too, to make them more individual and more homely.”

Beth believes the hospital is unique in Britain for its provision of in-house arts facilities.

But other centres further afield share many of its values – so she approached centres in Italy, Croatia and France to get involved in the project, too.

“The Bethlem has a very unusual setup,” she said. “We’ve been working hard to keep that going and make creativity an important element within mental health care for a long time.

“We wanted to look outside the UK to other leaders in arts in-house who share the same values for what creativity can bring to healthcare environments.”

Artists from Musée les Arcades, in the grounds of France’s Montfavet Hospital in Avignon, share the Bethlem exhibition with those from Croatia’s Vrapče, based in Zagreb.

The final centre represented in the Beckenham gallery is Azienda USL di Reggio Emilia in Italy, which has an in-house museum.

Although the four hospitals have a lot in common, the art they produce is very different.

“The French colour palate is typically ochres, and the artists tend to use up the whole page,” said Beth, “whereas the Brits seem to be a bit more minimalist, with line drawings, and more white, grey and black.

“Maybe it’s because of what we see on a daily basis!”

Flight of Ideas is on show at the Bethlem Gallery until October 25. For more information visit www.bethlemgallery.com

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