Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me
Bobby Baker exhibition
19 March – 2 August 2009
Wellcome Collection, London
In 1997, during her time as a patient at a day centre, Bobby Baker began making daily drawings in pencil and watercolour as a means of processing and recording her experiences of day hospitals, acute psychiatric wards, ‘crisis’ teams 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 challenge of negotiating the mental health system whilst attempting to maintain autonomy and her artistic practice 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.
A selection of 158 (out of 711) drawings were first shown as part of the exhibition Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me 1997–2008 at the Wellcome Collection. This exhibition, which was curated by Baker with her daughter, Dora Whittuck, had a huge impact, receiving widespread critical and public acclaim. A smaller version of the show continues to tour internationally. The drawings with captions and accompanying texts were also published in a book of the same name with an introduction by Marina Warner. This was awarded the MIND Book of the Year 2011.