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Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me

Bobby Baker exhibition

19 March – 2 August 2009
Wellcome Collection, London

In 1997 following a period of increasing mental anguish, Baker referred herself to a

therapeutic day centre in Clerkenwell, London hoping a short period there would resolve

her problems. She began making daily drawings in pencil and watercolour as a means of

processing and recording her experiences of the mental health system – including crisis

houses, acute psychiatric wards 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 many challenges of negotiating the mental health system whilst maintaining

her artistic practice, and some autonomy, 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. 

Since the late 1990s her work has actively confronted the failings and trappings of the

mental health system. Using wit and humour as a device to disarm her audience, Baker

critiques modern psychiatric diagnosis, and questions the prevailing intentions and

messages around wellbeing and mental illness. Her touring exhibition, Diary Drawings:

Mental Illness and Me 1997–2008, launched at the Wellcome Collection in 2009 and was

accompanied by an eponymous book, for which she was awarded the MIND Book of the

Year 2011.

Related links

‘The Interview: Bobby Baker’ by Kate Kellaway, The Observer, 28 June 2009

‘Bobby Baker’s diary Drawings – audio slideshow’, The Guardian, 10 October 2011

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