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Mental health activist, artist Hana Madness talks about COVID-19 lockdown experience

Richard Horstman
Richard Horstman

Artivist, observes and reports on developments in the Bali and Indonesian art scenes

-  /  Wed, June 3, 2020  /  02:02 pm
  • Hana Madness at work in her apartment during the lockdown.

    Hana Madness at work in her apartment during the lockdown. OF Courtesy of Hanna Madness/File

    Hana Madness at work in her apartment during the lockdown.

  • 'They Found Us in Peace' (2019) by Hana Madness

    'They Found Us in Peace' (2019) by Hana Madness OF Courtesy of Hanna Madness/File

    'They Found Us in Peace' (2019) by Hana Madness

  • 'A Thousand Feelings' (2017) by Hana Madness. Mixed media on canvas, 80 cm by 80 cm.

    'A Thousand Feelings' (2017) by Hana Madness. Mixed media on canvas, 80 cm by 80 cm. OF Courtesy of Hanna Madness/File

    'A Thousand Feelings' (2017) by Hana Madness. Mixed media on canvas, 80 cm by 80 cm.

  • 'In A Good Mood' (2017) by Hana Madness.

    'In A Good Mood' (2017) by Hana Madness. OF Courtesy of Hanna Madness/File

    'In A Good Mood' (2017) by Hana Madness.

  • 'FLOWER 2' by Hana Madness.

    'FLOWER 2' by Hana Madness. OF Courtesy of Hanna Madness/File

    'FLOWER 2' by Hana Madness.

  • 'MurL Senci' (2020) by Hana Madness.

    'MurL Senci' (2020) by Hana Madness. OF Courtesy of Hanna Madness/File

    'MurL Senci' (2020) by Hana Madness.


The Indonesian government’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months has determined the lives of millions of people. City dwellers throughout the country, especially in Jakarta, are experiencing enforced lockdowns and isolation. “Stay at home and save lives” has become the mantra that many have adopted. 

Meanwhile, in the international media, the restrictions are being questioned. Medical experts are publicly stating that the actions, along with the continual wearing of face masks, impact negatively upon people’s physical and mental well-being. On May 18, an American county court judge in Oregon declared the states stay-at-home orders unconstitutional.

Loneliness and isolation are constant for those suffering from mental disabilities, and the strict lockdown measures only impound upon this situation. Many other people, too, are being mentally challenged during the pandemic, which has forced the community to readdress the issue of mental health - highly stigmatized within Indonesian society. Hana Madness, a Jakarta-based mental health activist and contemporary artist, spoke to The Jakarta Post about her experience.

“As someone living with mental disabilities, extraordinary times like now are even harder for me. Many of my projects, such as discussions, seminars and exhibitions are being postponed,” said Hana, who was diagnosed with bipolar type 1 disorder in 2013. “Seeing so much negative news in mainstream media about social isolation, fear of contagion and the loss of family members has compounded the distress caused by my loss of income and employment. Many things aggravate the condition of someone who is vulnerable and can reduce their creativity.”

“Initially I felt inferior because I saw lot of my artist friends on social media that were able to maintain their productivity. But I realized I am different and know exactly what my capabilities are and convinced myself that it is OK to keep going slowly. I know I'm not alone – the whole world is feeling this.”

In response to her situation Hana, who was one of 10 women voted by Herworld magazine as Women of the Year, 2019 for their various roles and achievements, stated, “I have focused more on restoring my condition by continuing my healthy diet, maintaining good communication with friends and family and filtering all the information I receive, not swallowing it raw.”

Painting has played a defining role in Hana’s life in the past decade, helping her cope with her situation, which has impacted her home and school environments. Immediately eye-catching, her vibrant pictures feature an array of playful characters that address the audience directly. “I love playing with color and different expressions, transforming my doodles into meaningful works that represent strong human characteristics. Talking about mental health is not always about sadness or something scary,” Hana said. “Bright and even funny, my characters are spontaneous interpretations of all my feelings and the different emotional waves within me.”

Born in 1992 in an economically marginalized area of Jakarta and raised in a religious family, Hana remembers a childhood with few opportunities, frequent adverse events and loneliness. During her junior high school years with difficulties in socializing and sleeping, her psychotic symptoms (which include depression, hallucinations, extreme mood swings and self-harm) increased, eventually leading to suicide attempts.

“My turning point came in 2012,” Hana said. “After another traumatic relapse. I said to myself, “OK, I give up, God has created me differently.” I had to make peace with myself, even though I knew it was so hard. Thus, began my process of self-acceptance.”

Hana began to experience a turn-around in her fortunes. Later that year she gave her first speech during a seminar about mental health, themed "Disability, Art Therapies, and the Street Art Connection". A prominent Indonesian newspaper interviewed her and the story received national exposure. Hana and her family, however, were embarrassed at first, believing it was taboo to share such information.

“Slowly we realized that sharing my struggles and experience was positive as it made a huge impact on other people who were struggling with their mental health conditions. Not only for the survivors but also their families and caregivers. This positivity inspired me to continue my activism,” Hana stated. “I am proud and empowered because I can share and voice concerns about mental health issues using art as a weapon. This issue is no longer about me as this also represents many others out there who still struggle and are unable to voice themselves in private and public spheres.”

During the past five years, Hana has been exhibiting extensively and contributed to various projects raising awareness about mental health issues. The year 2019 was busy for her, with shows that included the Exaggerate Everything Exhibition from November 2019 until February at BACKLIT Gallery in Nottingham, United Kingdom; Take Over St Helens Festival in December 2019 at St Helen’s in Britain; and her solo exhibition, Suddenly Monster, on Dec. 7, 2019 at Ganara x Artsphere in Senayan, Jakarta.

As an activist, she has given lectures and participated in events in Jakarta, Bali and the UK. Hana has made over 20 national and international TV appearances, including panel discussions, along with lecturing at Indonesian universities, including at the International Youth Day Celebration 2014 Seminar "Mental Health Matters" at Mercubuana University in Jakarta.

“There is nothing wrong with people with mental health disabilities. What is wrong is how society reacts to and treat us, and this often makes the situation worse. I believe, with proper treatments, people’s destructive behavior can be minimized, their life expectancy increased and they can go on to make valuable contributions to society.”

As a modality of self-healing and a potent distraction from lockdown boredom, art-making is accessible to young and old alike. There are no rules, it's limited only by the imagination.  “I believe that art can be an alternative way to recover our mental states in difficult times. It can produce creativity in responding to various pressures,” Hana adds. “Everyone in society responds differently in difficult situations like today. Keeping the lines of communication open is essential. Taking care of myself, friends and family along with art-making helps me deal with stress. Assisting others to cope with their stress makes our community much stronger.” (wng)


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.