Empathy and portrayals of mental illness in Australian visual culture

This project looks at the various ways in which the experience of mental illness is portrayed in Australian art, film and television, and the influence of earlier European culture upon these representations. It explores the potential of visual culture to develop empathy for people living with a mental illness.

Empathy and portrayals of mental illness in Australian visual culture

Image: Franka Potente in Romulus, My Father (2007) courtesy Arenamedia, some rights reserved.

This project investigates the emotion of empathy – both its history and its contemporary theorisations – and its relationship to the artistic representation of and social attitudes towards mental illness. This project examines portrayals of mental illness in visual culture, specifically screen media (film and television) and visual art, by comparing contemporary Australian representations with artistic representations from Europe pre-1800 (primarily visual, pre-cinematic culture but also encompassing literature and theatre). The project explores the ways in which Australian culture has inherited, or reacted against, certain stereotypes and stigmas regarding mental illness from earlier European culture, and considers whether these contemporary representations offer a more or less empathetic portrayal of the experience of mental illness that may reduce, or contribute to, stigma and discrimination.

As a screen studies scholar, Fincina Hopgood is committed to consultation and collaboration with the mental health sector as part of her research. She has previously partnered with mental health organisations The Dax Centre and SANE Australia in presenting the symposium Try Walking in My Shoes: Empathy and Portrayals of Mental Illness on Screen which was supported by the CHE. This research project continues the interdisciplinary conversations initiated by the symposium. Together with The Dax Centre and SANE Australia, Fincina will develop a proposal for a linkage project that will expand this initial investigation of how mental illness is represented in Australian visual culture.