Lifting The Veil
By enlisting the talents of artist Boz Schurr, Mental Health America of Hawaii’i hopes to paint a more light-infused picture about mental illness.
Mental health, as local artist Boz Schurr sees it, is like a rainbow of colors. Yellow and purple are not separate entities, but part of the same spectrum. There’s no right shade of green or wrong shade of blue, either. Each is just as it should be.
“No matter where you fall on that spectrum, you’re exactly where you need to be,” she says.
Schurr has anxiety and depression, and is all too familiar with the stigma often attached to discussions on mental health. People often speak of their experiences with shame, using words like “struggling” — and that, says Schurr, is a real tragedy.
“They’re not right or wrong, they’re just different.”
To help convey this very message, Schurr recently teamed up with Mental Health America of Hawai‘i to complete a life-sized work of art titled Umbra, Penumbra and Antumbra (Shadows Cast by Celestial Bodies). The completed piece (comprised of three panels) will be revealed Thursday, Oct. 18, at Café Julia, where the organization is hosting a benefit event, “Between Shadow and Light.”
It’s the second year Mental Health America of Hawai‘i has teamed up with a local artist. Last year, it was Solomon Enos. The idea, says executive director Trisha Kajimura, is simply to use art as a way to broach the topic and let people know they are not alone. After all, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year, according to Kajimura.
“Stigma is such a big factor in people not getting treatment, and people kind of keeping issues hidden,” she adds. “If we could bring it out into the light and really normalize conversation around mental health, it would have an effect on people seeking help and overall improving mental health.”
Responding to a call to artists, Schurr was among six finalists who shared their proposals with a group of roughly 50 agency supporters who then voted for her. As Kajimura recalls, it was a presentation that aligned seamlessly with the organization’s own mission.
“What resonated about Boz’s presentation for me was that she really spoke to our goal of reducing the stigma of mental health,” says Kajimura. “Boz talked about her own experience with mental health, rejecting the labels of illness and coming to understand that mental ‘health’ exists on a spectrum that shifts from day to day and moment to moment, all of which is ‘OK.'”
Schurr — an instructor in the visual arts department at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama, where she currently teaches art history and illustration — estimates that it took her about a month to complete the project. Details are sparse as she and Mental Health America of Hawai‘i await its big reveal, but expect a self-portrait that uses the metaphor of shadows, and duality of light and dark.
It was an exciting experience, according to Schurr, who is looking forward to sharing it with the public.
“I’m just so happy that this organization exists, and that their goal is to destigmatize this idea of being mentally ill — I don’t even like that word ’cause if you ask me, I’m not sick; there’s nothing wrong with me.
“My advice for anything, whether it’s drawing or mental health, is it’s a process,” she adds. “(Don’t) worry so much about the final product ’cause it’s going to happen. If you focus on the steps, then the outcome is going to be more close to what you want.”
Individual tickets to the Oct. 18 benefit event cost $95. Tables and sponsorships also are available. For tickets, visit mentalhealthhawaii.org/events. For more information on Schurr, visit bozschurr.com and find her on Instagram (@bozschurr).
For 76 years, Mental Health America of Hawai‘i has provided advocacy and training to the community. Formerly known as Mental Health Association of Hawai‘i, the group works to improve policy as it relates to mental health, as well as shed light on often ignored topics, such as suicide prevention.
Most of its services come in the form of training. The organization also takes calls from the public during office hours.
To ensure individuals have the help they need at all times, Mental Health America of Hawai‘i recently debuted its own app, Kokua Life. Available for iPhones and Androids, Kokua Life offers information on suicide prevention, and also includes crisis lines to call or text directly, as well as community resources.
“We’re really small,” says executive director Trisha Kajimura. “We’re only six people. We don’t focus on individual work, like counseling or case management. We’re trying to do the broader awareness and advocacy work. So the app is a way that we could reach more people, we felt, and also because there’s a trend nationwide of people using apps for mental health.”