Exhibition view, Bobby Baker, Wellcome Collection, London 2009. Photo by Wellcome
Bobby Baker drawings
In 1997 following a period of increasing mental anguish, Baker referred herself to a
therapeutic day centre in Clerkenwell, London hoping a short period there would resolve
her problems. She began making daily drawings in pencil and watercolour as a means of
processing and recording her experiences of the mental health system – including crisis
houses, acute psychiatric wards and the variety of treatments that she was undertaking.
Originally private, they gradually became a way for her to communicate complex thoughts
and emotions to her family, friends, and professionals.
The drawings document eleven years of ups and downs in her mental and physical health.
They show the many challenges of negotiating the mental health system whilst maintaining
her artistic practice, and some autonomy, alongside her path to recovery. In doing so, they
also reveal much about Baker’s everyday family life, work as an artist, and her breast cancer
diagnosis. The Diary Drawings demonstrate that amid the harrowing stuff of her life,
humour was an ever-present force.
Since the late 1990s her work has actively confronted the failings and trappings of the
mental health system. Using wit and humour as a device to disarm her audience, Baker
critiques modern psychiatric diagnosis, and questions the prevailing intentions and
messages around wellbeing and mental illness. Her touring exhibition, Diary Drawings:
Mental Illness and Me 1997–2008, launched at the Wellcome Collection in 2009 and was
accompanied by an eponymous book, for which she was awarded the MIND Book of the