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Tishk Barzanji

Work / World Mental Health Day

Illustrators Tishk Barzanji and Charlotte Edey discuss isolation

Back in spring, we first featured the work of Tishk Barzanji, who revealed that his pastel-hued interiors spoke of an underlying anxiety. This month the Iraq-born visual artist is set to take over Hackney venue Palm Vaults alongside illustrator Charlotte Edey for Quiet Utopia, a joint show which, using Tishk’s signature surrealism, will explore “the importance of introspection” through large scale digital works, illustrations and woven tapestries. We caught up with the pair in the lead up to the show’s launch to talk about the ways in which introspection and isolation can be a useful part of the creative process in a world where we are never not connected.

Your upcoming show focuses on introspection and escapism. Where did that theme grow from?

Charlotte: I had been researching private chapels for my latest work and found the idea of a contemporary sanctuary intriguing. There is an intimate importance in the meditative spaces we build for introspection in a world of 24-hour connectivity, even if it’s just putting your phone on airplane mode. Tishk and I often talked about the crossing paths of our themes and decided that the most unifying one was that of introspection.

Tishk: Since I began making work, I would visit places alone to examine how people use space. The change in their patterns throughout the day and how the architecture shaped the way people move through it is a big influence for me. Mediterranean modernist architecture is a shared influence in our work, and the reason for that is exploring how people use spaces for pleasure or escapism.

Tell us about your own experiences of isolation.

Charlotte: One of the reasons we decided to put on this show was to look at two different experiences of isolation. Personally, I really enjoy being alone. Having time to just space out is rare, revealing and underrated.

Tishk: Conversely, my experience of isolation came from a negative place. When my anxiety was strong, I spent many months indoors, detached with society. I couldn’t bear busy places, and my imagination became my escapism. I imagined a door, that would take me to another place, a quiet calm place where my mind was clear. Doors and stairs feature in my work for this reason.

How have those periods of isolation affected your creative practise?

Charlotte: I think you kind of get used to being isolated; having to allocate time or cancel plans in order to create. It’s hard to be imaginative if you’re distracted. There’s something about being home alone at your worst that I find useful when you’re creating something honest.

Tishk: The times I was feeling isolated is what pushed me to create something. Being alone focused my mind on the issues I wanted to address in life. I agree with Charlotte that, when I’ve been in my own company, I am more productive. Taking time out on your own, exploring ideas in your own time and space is very important.

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Charlotte Edey

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Charlotte Edey

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Charlotte Edey

How does social media — and the experience of being constantly connected — impact of you?

Tishk: We are so immersed in it, it’s easy to forget the negative sides of it. It’s great you can put something out there and find an audience. I think it’s really important to do an activity that doesn’t require online presence. For example, joining a society or volunteering somewhere that keeps your mind busy. I’m still struggling to have that balance. But these things takes time, small steps gets you to bigger steps.

Charlotte: Social media is obviously performative, but it’s convincing and that can feel really isolating. I find switching off really helpful. I’ve turned almost all of my notifications off, so the only way I see anything is if I choose to look. It’s hard to engage with your surroundings or other people if your phone’s buzzing.

Do you have any useful advice or coping mechanisms to share?

Tishk: From my own experience, I would say to set a goal everyday. Simple things, like watering the plants or cooking a meal. The second part of my recovery was to keep my mind active by looking at things I enjoyed, art magazines, books, films. These all influenced my work in the long term. The most important aspect of my recovery came from keeping a diary. I wrote about how I felt, and the things I saw during the day. These are actually my narratives for my work now. Everyone is different, but I would say be frank and honest about your feelings, and to be open about it. By being open, you will start a discussion that will have a positive impact on your life.

Do you think the creative industry is open when it comes to discussing mental health?

Charlotte: I think the creative world is generally open when it comes to discussions around mental health, but I think more could be done to address the mental health implications of trying to make a living as a creative. In an industry where you need connections just to be able to work for free, there is a lack of support for those who are starting out: it can be really crushing.

Tishk: I agree. I think it can be improved by people who are at a certain level to mentor the seeds of the future. For someone higher up to take a day out, to show them how it was for them. This would be a really valuable experience for anyone who are struggling. I wish at the times I was not feeling well, someone would give me some advice from their experiences.

1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year, and in England, 1 in every 6 people report a common mental health problem – like anxiety and depression – each week. But only 1 in 4 people in the UK reporting mental health difficulties receive ongoing treatment. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in today’s coverage, if you would like to find out more or to donate, please contact Mind or CALM

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Tishk Barzanji

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Tishk Barzanji

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Tishk Barzanji

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Tishk Barzanji