Dolly dressed in a white doctors coat, with blue face mask, holds a stethoscope to the nameplate to 'listen' for a pulse in the doorway to the DWP head office
Dolly Sen

Dolly Sen — Birdsong from Inobservable Worlds

This combined arts project, spanning literature, performance and film, and in partnership with The Wellcome Collection, explores and challenges the narrative in existing mental health archives, and adds missing voices to the current archives of madness.

“Why should the people who’ve never visited a land be that country’s prime historians? How can we tell our true stories when our words are seen as sickness? The mental health archives at the Wellcome Library, as they stand, have observable data of inobservable worlds.”

As mental health archives have been predominantly built from the perspective of medical professionals, Dolly Sen believes that they will be incomplete until those who have been labelled ‘mad’ tell their side.

Birdsong from Inobservable Worlds will offer three publications and three performances, which will be made into a film to go into the archives. The publications will be survivor accounts of the mental health system, exploring the impact of a profession where some people are pathologised for identities historically judged as problematic or labelled ‘mad’ in the absence of a correct diagnosis. Dolly will look at her experiences of being female, being a person of colour and being LGBT+ and add her own ‘birdsong from inobservable worlds’ unfiltered into the archives to place equal emphasis on the beauty of human voices suppressed under the auspices of science.

Her intersectionality as a gay biracial woman has meant that the treatment experienced both as an inpatient and a student in the mental health system has not been respectful or compassionate. The three performance pieces will be radical exposés of the ridiculousness of such practices and will prompt us to have uncomfortable conversations about what’s wrong with psychiatry.

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