Is artistic expression a viable way to cope with mental challenges? Judging by the compelling work of Bezerk Productions, the answer is a definitive “yes.”
Linda Sibio, the local artist who launched the nonprofit arts collective—known as “The Cracked Eggs”—in 2001, has worked in various media including painting, installation, and performance art since the mid-1980s. The intention behind Bezerk is two-fold: to raise the level of awareness about the interdisciplinary art of persons with severe mental disabilities, and to also provide unique educational art and career opportunities for that typically underserved population.
“I noticed I had schizophrenia when I worked on Skid Row,” says Sibio, who has since identified as a “schizophrenic artist.” After starting a group called Operation Hammer, she was encouraged to “come out” and tell people she had schizophrenia because it would allow others with the condition to do the same.
“I did that publicly back in 1991 and I’ve been dealing with those issues ever since,” she says, noting the stigma against people who are schizophrenic and have other mental health issues. Over the years, Sibio has found her own support group of artists, administrators, and other people who appreciate and value her work.
“They give me advice and when I’m down, they talk to me and encourage me to keep working to do my work best,” she says. “So, for people with mental challenges who are trying to enter the art world, every person they meet could be a potential supporter. It’s important to nurture those relationships and I try to help with people with that.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 percent of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2020. That’s 52.9 million people or one in five adults. Additionally, one in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year and 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14; 75 percent by age 24.
Recently, Bezerk Productions received a Community Impact Fund grant from IECF. The funds helped Sibio prepare for a presentation in a recent Zoom show hosted by Franklin’s Furnace, an organization that provides artists with both physical and virtual venues to showcase their “time-based art.”
Sibio’s segment, which was derived from one of her larger pieces called “Wall Street Guillotine,” revolved around the plight of today’s youth, particularly gun violence.
“We were able to share what we’re doing through the vehicle of performance in writing and in visual art with a national community of artists,” Sibio says of the grant. “People from around the country, especially those with mental challenges, attended. The grant helped us get that off the ground because part of the money we received from the Mental Health Services Act doesn’t really cover that type of activity.”
Video documentation and Q&A of the work, called “Connections,” is available in the Franklin Furnace archive (franklinfurnace.org/cracked-eggs/).
Overall, Bezerk Productions has seen progress with its own networking program.
“Artists can write us a letter or email, and we’ll do what we can to help them,” Sibio says, adding that even assisting with an artist’s base needs, such as art supplies, or helping them land a show in a reputable gallery, filters into the mix.
Sibio has long been interested in the “fringe of society and how that affects culture as a whole. She displays a rare depth in her artwork, leaning heavily into social issues—from mental illness, homelessness and gangs to suicide, drug addiction, mass murder, and prostitution—with “progressive elements in design and form thus creating my own sub-culture language.”
Of her “condition,” she says she appreciates the grace she has experienced through the years.
“I grew up in an orphanage, and I had a very difficult childhood,” Sibio admits. “Expressing myself helps me stay in touch with my roots, but also to expunge my roots and deal with the trauma in a positive way—get it out of my body by catharsis—so that when I do art, I can concentrate better. I create these very detailed paintings, and they can take a year to do. I can concentrate like nobody’s business when that environmental garbage is removed from my diagnosis.
“So many times, people who have illnesses grew up in very bad environments,” she stresses. “But it’s not the illness that’s really giving them the problem because there are good attributes from schizophrenia—it can make you more creative and such. People who have mental illnesses can come from these ‘bad’ environments, so it can be beneficial to get rid of that ‘environmental stuff.’ Hopefully, the work I do helps create awareness around that.”
Learn more about Linda Sibio and Bezerk Productions at crazyforaday.com/linda-sibio.
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