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> > > Sanchita Islam: Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too

Rich Mix is hosting an exhibition of recent works by Sanchita Islam from 4 - 27 June. The artist explains some of the ideas behind the exhibition in a moving and intimate series of reflections on a selection of the artworks

Wall 1: Mother and child sketches

In 2009 I suffered my first psychotic episode, I thought it was a mental aberration, but then it struck a second time in 2010. After a period of recovery I fell pregnant, but was never forewarned that I might be vulnerable to postpartum psychosis.

Throughout my pregnancy I worked on creating and delivering my animation film White Wall for the UK Film Council. Three days after I gave birth psychosis struck and my life changed irrevocably.

I was kept in hospital for one month, in a mother and baby psychiatric unit in Brussels, my mental health deteriorated, I had to act ‘normal’ to ensure release.

When I got home psychosis was never far away, I suffered multiple visions when I breastfeed or if I was sleep deprived. I had very little mental health support, but I learnt to recognise the patterns inherent within psychosis and realised the only thing that would help me would be to draw. I drew anything, the view from my hospital window and then my focus was my new-born baby.

I began to assiduously draw my baby as he breast fed or slept. I made a second book when my second child was born and postpartum psychosis struck again.

Making these drawings, each and every one of them, kept me well and silenced ‘Fred’ the negative voice in my head.

The oil paintings are part of a series that began when the children were still in the womb.

I am painting one oil painting of them each year until they are 18 and the idea is that the 18 portraits will make up one composite piece.

I have also included colour pencil portrait studies of the children.





I have also included drawings of my parents, because without them I wouldn’t be here and nor my children, my mother perhaps carried the mad gene and passed it onto me and thereby I may have passed it on to my children.

Can we break the cycle? I hope so through education and art - I think it is possible. 




Wall 2: Postcards

While working in Brussels I participated in ‘Return to Sender’ at the Contemporary Arts Centre in Brussels, which consisted of an exhibition of various artists who each created a postcard.

Every artist involved had some history or link with mental health issues.

After creating my first one, I found the experience so positive that I decided to continue and hence my 1000 Postcards project was born. 

As a mother with mental health problems and two small children, finding time and space to make my art can be difficult, creating a postcard is possible given my time constraints. 
Very soon my young son became involved in the project, he would create squiggles and I would then transform them into ethereal landscapes replete with dragons or dinosaurs, Lego figures, poems and lines of wisdom etc. The postcard project has helped to cement the bond between us. 
So far I have created 180. Some are drawn, others painted, I even created one in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I realise the postcard can be a simple but powerful art form.

Wall 3: White Wall and Dragon Story – the realm of the fantasy

I have included this work because the realm of the fantasy has been an important part of my recovery. After my first psychosis in 2009 and 2010 working on my animation film White Wall, for the UK Film Council, helped to heal my broken mind since the film is about a little girl with mental health problems. 

Similarly the Tree People is a story I wrote when I was 23, but due to my mental health issues I have never done anything with it, like many of the books I have written I just shoved it in a drawer, I then re-visited it thinking that my children would appreciate the story and this motivated me to create a colour version of the original black and white drawings. 

I now hope to turn both of them into books for children. I want to write stories for children about people with mental health issues, environmental issues and write about ‘brown’ families or set stories in Bangladesh. 

I am sure many of my mental health problems stem from this sense of not fitting, or belonging, or counting or being heard or represented.

Wall 4: Text, brain sketchbooks, Fred paintings and war

Shortly before and since the psychosis text has been an intrinsic part of my practise as an artist.

Text now features on my paintings, in my drawings, sketchbooks and scrolls.

People often ask why do I write so small? To which I reply it is because I need to get the stuff out of my head, but I don’t necessarily want people to read it.

Some of the text pieces were made when I have been emotionally very distressed. 




The brain sketchbooks all feature, text, a level of colour abstraction and drawing. 

People would often look at my sketchbooks and want to buy them, but they will never be for sale, but here they are in this exhibition for people to examine. 





 The Fred portrait is the closest I have ever got to visually depicting Fred, ‘the negative voice in my head’.

I do believe that this painting is very sinister. 







The abstract colour paintings are examples of pure expression and emotion. The band Polar Bear commissioned these particular paintings for their album cover.

Working with colour in its pure form does have a palliative impact on my brain.



My Bosnian war paintings, created over the last twenty years, reflect my on-going interest in warfare both historical, actual and internal psychological warfare.

Often it does feel as if I am going to war with Fred each day of my life. These paintings were the inspiration for my trilogy of war scrolls.   


Wall 5: Photography and self-portraits

I have included a series of photographic portraits of Mia, my glamorous alter ego.

There are also portraits of the patients I worked with in Brussels and KAOS with the photographer Lieven van Meulder. These same patients created a second scroll entitled ‘War on a Scroll Part 1’ which will be displayed on the opening night.
The wall also features Lieven’s portraits of the patients. His style is very different from mine. During my time working with KAOS and the patients in Brussels Lieven and I formed a friendship, we could talk about psychosis and he taught me a great deal about photography. I wanted to showcase his work as part of the exhibition.


Lieven and I have embarked on a separate project where I began taking portraits of him and he, in turn, took portraits of me. In essence two ‘so- called’ mad people taking portraits of one another, exploring notions of madness. 

I have also included a series of drawn self portraits with the photographic portraits to raise further questions about the external image we project to the world and the other image we hide.  




‘War on a Scroll Part 1’ is the first in a trilogy of scrolls that I have been creating about war. Image © Sanchita Islam

I created four scrolls during the postpartum period. I made three of them with my son, the idea was to cement our bond and create a work that could help me cut through the psychosis that kept on threatening the relationship with my son and also create something magical and indelible and special.

‘War on a Scroll Part 1’ is the first in a trilogy of scrolls that I have been creating about war.

I have always been interested in the futility of war and the importance of documenting it, so this war scroll project is my attempt at depicting all wars, past and present, on three scrolls.

The first in the series also depicts the internal psychological warfare experienced by the patients I worked with at KAOS in Brussels, juxtaposed with actual warfare.

I would argue one step further that internal mental war can lead to actual war and senseless acts of violence, so having a level of mental peace will go a long way towards actual peace globally.

Please click on this link for further details about the exhibition, 'Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too'