Roller-skating creative Oh Mu on how they used illustration to get over a painful fall
Preferring visual over verbal language, the illustrator explains how they’ve developed a vocabulary of symbols to discuss skate accidents, neurodivergence and their non-binary identity.
- Elfie Thomas
- 16 May 2022
The physicality of so much of the work done in the creative industry means that a huge amount of emphasis can be put on the healthiness and capability of our bodies. Celebs have been known to insure their body parts for millions of pounds – musicians insure their fingers and voices while athletes insure arms and legs. For the less wealthy and famous, an injury or accident can be devastating both for their career and mental health. Swiss illustrator Oh Mu is a keen rollerblader and skater. At the beginning of the year they had an accident whilst trying to grind a rail in a skatepark with their rollerskates on. “I ended up having my right foot twisting at the landing, I had two broken bones and a surgery,” they tell us. Being forced to stay in bed and refrain from the ambitious leaps and grinds which brought them so much joy, dealt a huge blow to Oh Mu’s mental health. Thankfully skating is not their only skill and since their hands were uninjured, they were able to find solace by withdrawing into their dream world of illustrations.
To add insult to injury, Oh Mu’s time in hospital coincided with the painful abandonment of someone very close to them. So, amongst the boredom and the pain, heartbreak creeped into this difficult period too. Fortunately, Oh Mu has become experienced at dealing with emotional turmoil through creativity. As an illustrator living with a dissociative disorder, visual expression has long been a tool for them to describe their inner world: “the world in my dreams, my invisible thoughts [...] my neurodivergence or complex feelings that are often stuck within me without the ability to be expressed outside of my illustrations or comics”.
Certain kinds of imagery reappear in their illustrations, drawing links between their body of work which comes across as a kind of flow of consciousness as their moods and emotions change. “For me, it’s like having an alphabet or vocabulary but with images and symbols,” they add.
During the time they were cooped up in bed, the symbol of a cast was added into their “illustration narrative and vocabulary”. And when the cast was removed, Oh Mu started drawing their right leg like a “floppy spaghetti without muscles in it, even in the illustrations that were not about my leg at all”. Some of the illustrations from their recovery days served as a form of escapism. Though the title of their piece Ball of Anxiety hints at their inner turmoil, the setting for this illustration is picturesque and dreamlike. The elongated body of Oh Mu appears in a natural landscape with a hot pink skyline, their cast has been whisked away and replaced with a bed of flamey flowers issuing from the injured leg.
Offering a significant contrast to this surreal illustration are works like The Dating Game is Killing Me. Here, the reality of the injury is dissected in diagrammatic detail. Bed-bound and bored, Oh Mu dolefully scrolls through a dating app on their phone. Their enlarged cast is depicted with X-ray vision to reveal the painful screw binding bones back together. Despite being Oh Mu’s conduit for conveying emotional and physical pain, the finished result is never maudlin. The elegant fluidity of forms and invariably bright colour palette gives the viewer a sense of lightness even when the subject is heavy or sad.
The recovery illustrations are just Oh Mu’s latest series. Pointing to some of their favourite projects, they highlight a fanzine called Hi, I’m non—binary, and I’m a boy. The zine allowed them to unpack their non-binary identity and their experience of “stigmatisation and misunderstandings that made me doubt myself a lot”. Dissociation has been another important piece for the illustrator because it gave them a platform to explore their disorder without having to speak about it verbally: “I think it’s really difficult to explain mental illness to people who don’t experience it at all, and it was very comforting for me to find a way without many words to draw the feeling of my dissociation disorder.”
Now that they have got through the worst of the recuperation period after the accident, Oh Mu has lots in store for the rest of the year. In between working on their growing collection of flash tattoos, they’re preparing for an exhibition in September and a concert around that time too. “And in general, I would like to make a longer story, maybe a comic book or an animation project to tell an autobiographical story from my past.”
Oh Mu: Roller Angel (Copyright © Oh Mu, 2022)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.