The Face of Another is a duo exhibit between artists from Malang, Indonesia — Bagas Rachelma and Laila Wulancahya. They reflect on how people who struggle with mental health must not only face their illnesses, but also face societal stigma and try their best to fit into an otherwise hostile society. 

Despite using very different art styles and colour palettes, both artists create figurative art with recurring characters in them, as if the paintings are individual animated shows. The characters give audiences access to distinct faces, with varied emotions that are easy to understand visually. These are faces that help people understand better what it means to have different mental health issues. 

The displayed paintings portray everything from the loneliness of depression, to the hauntings of social anxiety and finally, the burning fire and determination required to drag themselves out of the rut. These pieces help viewers empathize and create kinder environments for anyone who struggles with mental health issues, as they attempt to navigate life in society. This reflects the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Reduced Inequalities and Good Health And Well-Being

The exhibit’s title, The Face of Another, can be traced as a reference to a 1966 Japanese film of the same title. A film which follows two main protagonists who are symbols for two different paths chosen by people struggling with mental illness as they navigate life in society. The exhibition echoes the film by presenting two artists who are sharing two different points of views on the same issue.

The film directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara followed two characters: Mr. Okuyama and ‘The Girl with a Scar’, who, due to separate accidents, had their faces badly disfigured. Teshigahara employed how the two deformed characters adjusted to life in society as an on-the-nose allegory to living in these spaces with mental illnesses. 

In the film, ‘The Girl with a Scar’ managed to embrace her disfigured face, finding happiness in small everyday tasks. Meanwhile, Mr. Okuyama chose to hide his disfigured face by donning a realistic face mask. This made him look like another man altogether. A choice he would come to regret since doing so, Mr. Okuyama had to abandon not only himself and his personal identity, but also his family, all out of desperation to be accepted by society. 

In psychology, Mr. Okuyama’s behaviour is recognized as a phenomenon called masking. Instead of donning a literal face mask to cover up physical scars, people who struggle with mental illnesses often have to “mask” by behaving as if they are not struggling. However, if done for long periods of time, masking can cause stress, exhaustion and even a loss of identity. This psychological phenomenon, including its less savoury effects, is what the exhibit aims to explore.

Di Ujung Pencarian (At the End of the Search) by Bagus Rachelma. Image courtesy of Sewu Satu Gallery.

When entering the space at Sewu Satu Gallery at the Jakarta Art Hub, viewers' eyes are drawn to Bagus Rachelma’s Di Ujung Pencarian (At the End of the Search). The piece depicts a purple jungle with a snaking river parting its woods. Two identical large yellow heads are laid atop the forests, a symbol of the overwhelming thoughts that consume a struggling mind. Fish float freely above these heads, giving its viewers an understanding that what they are witnessing is a dreamscape; the manifestations of a person’s internal landscape.

In this piece, loneliness is palpable. Imagine being a head laid in a forest, with no one else in sight but your reflection. The painting becomes a metaphor for how isolating life in society can be when you are struggling with mental illness.

Artificial Melancholia by Laila Wulancahya. Image courtesy of Sewu Satu Gallery.

Next is Artificial Melancholia by Laila Wulancahya which features a girl whose pinky is tied to a skeleton’s during a live stream. This skeleton has been decorated with flowers, stickers and jewelry by the girl. It shows that the girl has spent a significant amount of time with the skeleton, long enough to have decorated it. Throughout art history, artistic depictions of skulls or skeletons are known as memento mori. They represent thoughts of death, and for someone struggling with mental illness, this may mean grappling with suicidal ideation. Thoughts of suicide, in the case of the girl in the painting, have persevered for quite some time.

Yet, she is still smiling for her livestream. The painted girl is masking, and people respond in kind by leaving encouraging positive comments, as if they cannot see that she is tied to a skeleton.

Overflowing Thoughts by Laila Wulancahya. Image courtesy of Sewu Satu Gallery.

Wulancahya is also showcasing her piece Overflowing Thoughts in the exhibit. This piece contains visuals of a beheaded girl who is soaking in the bathtub. Blood oozes from her neck wound and the scalp of her head, which makes it seem like she has cut herself open. Her blood is the bath water, overflowing and flooding the entire bathroom.

Unlike Wulancahya’s Artificial Melancholia, the girl in Overflowing Thoughts is not engaging with other people. She has retreated to the safety and privacy of her bathroom, free from the need to mask for other people. This girl is now completely alone with herself and her thoughts. These are overwhelming thoughts that seem to take over, debilitate and drown those who are struggling with mental illnesses, just like the girl in the painting.

However, here and there in the bathroom, from the cracks in the tiles and also from the flooded bath water, plants grow. A symbol of hope and resilience for a better future, despite how hurtful and overwhelming life with mental illness can be.

Diam Membara (Quietly Inflames) by Bagus Rachelma. Image courtesy of Sewu Satu Gallery.

Last but not least is Rachelma’s piece, Diam Membara (Quietly Inflames). Commenting on his work for Arts Help, Rachelma explains that the work is his portrayal of a burdened, introverted self, who has to try to defy all odds in order to achieve their personal goals. The portrayed person has been multiplied into three, all conjoined at the head, symbolizing how they are all different sides of the same person. They are different layers of a single identity that they are showing to other people, due to the fire in their eyes, a symbol of all their goals. All the things they want to achieve, despite their struggles with mental health, give them a reason to mask.

At the end of the day, The Face of Another delves deep into the struggles faced by those with mental health issues as they find their way through the woods that is society. Bagus Rachelma and Laila Wulancahya’s artworks beckons their viewers to confront societal stigmas attached to mental illness that force people to mask. It hopes they will then be kinder and create spaces that understand and support those battling mental struggles.

Find out more about the exhibited pieces by checking Sewu Satu’s Instagram on @sewusatu, Bagus Rachelma at @brachelma and Laila Wulancahya at @lwulancahya.

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