His how many women) were diagnosed, but that

 His work, as it is surreal, also has a
nightmare-ish feel to it. A prime example would be the 1949 photograph, Les
Jeux de Poupée.
A doll made up of 2 pairs of legs stands in a forest, and a man watches from
behind a tree.

Hans Bellmer was a surreal
photographer, active in the 20th Century. Most of his works are based
around dolls that he has built/deconstructed, and sexuality ie. the phallus,
nude women, and bondage. I feel as if this is comparable to Kayleigh Adams’
work as they both use objects to symbolise women; Bellmer with dolls, and Adams
with vaginas.

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Another way that the treatment is
represented is through the chairs hanging on the wall. These chairs are stereotypical
of an old-fashioned waiting room. They symbolise women waiting to be called
into the doctor’s office, to see if they will be diagnosed with the illness. As
I type, I let my curiosity get the better of me, as I now wish to question
whether or not a male doctor would sexually abuse every patient that he saw,
and claimed that they were then cured of Hysteria when they were in no way ill
to begin with. It is said on record that a quarter of women (although I am
unsure of how many women) were diagnosed, but that is only on the record. A doctor
could have simply not put on the record that he had diagnosed and “treated” a
female patient. Another point about there chairs that I am interested in is
that they are objects with vaginas; throughout history in society and art,
women have been seen and portrayed as sexual objects. I wish to look deeper in
to this.

Adams’ exhibition that I am most
inspired by, Room of Hy-ste-ri-a, was
held in a white room, filled with sculptures she had produced on each wall such
as a wall of latex vaginas and a row of chairs embellished with latex vaginas
on the cushions. It is important to my study as it gives me a visual
representation of how Hysteria was treated. The wall of latex vaginas is a
visual representation of the sheer mass of women treated for Hysteria, but also
the way in which they were treated. “Pelvic massages” were a frequent treatment
for the illness, more commonly known as sexual contact. Doctors believed that
an orgasm would be the cure for Hysteria, as I mentioned previously, it was often
women who were virgins or had strong sexual desires that were diagnosed. This left
me curious about the taboo topic of the patriarchy and the way that it is
believed that men will go to extreme extents for sexual intercourse such as intoxicating
a woman and rape, but also heavy persuasion and deceitfulness. Considering that
a quarter of women were diagnosed with this so called “mental illness”, were
these are true diagnoses or were they cases of men abusing their power to engage
in sexual activities with women without repercussions as it was seen as a
legitimate medical treatment?



“I feel as if I can relate to artists who have also had problems and
put their feelings down on the page. I do art because I need something to concentrate
on so that my mind doesn’t wander into negative emotions. Everything is pretty intense,
so I prefer to relieve some of that intensity by pushing my feelings onto the
person I am drawing. The idea that my mental illness would have been treated
with an orgasm is ridiculous; I’m thankful for modern medicine! Being in my own
mind is scary, but the details of drawing a portrait allows me to space out for
a bit.”

I found this result surprising because
the idea of Hysteria seems so surreal as it was a condition from centuries
before I was born, even though there is a modern definition. One of my closest
friends (who shall remain anonymous) suffers with Borderline Personality Disorder.
I approached her about my findings, and discussed this essay about the
relationship between art, society, and hysteria with her. I requested a
statement from her as an artist who technically would have been diagnosed with

The symptoms of a personality disorder may range from mild to severe
and usually emerge in adolescence, persisting into adulthood.”

but unstable relationships with others


patterns of thinking or perception – (“cognitive distortions” or
“perceptual distortions”)

instability – the psychological term for this is “affective

The symptoms of BPD can be grouped into four main areas:

In general, someone with a personality disorder will differ
significantly from an average person in terms of how he or she thinks, perceives,
feels or relates to others.

“Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a disorder of mood and how a
person interacts with others. It’s the most commonly recognised personality

As there is a definite definition
in the modern dictionary, the list of symptoms sparked my curiosity to find out
if there was an official record of Hysteria within the Nation Health Service. I
used the search engine Google conducted an enquiry for the phrase “Hysteria NHS”.
The first result was the following:

3. Psychiatry. conversion disorder. ”        

2. Psychoanalysis. a psychoneurotic disorder characterized by violent
emotional outbreaks, disturbances of sensory and motor functions, and various abnormal
effects due to autosuggestion.

1. an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterized by
irrationality, laughter, weeping, etc.


Although I have a clear definition
of Hysteria from a historical aspect, I was curious to know the official definition
as presented in a dictionary. I retrieved the following definition from www.dictionary.com :

Hysteria, the earliest recorded
mental illness most common in the 19th Century was primarily diagnosed to women
who … It was recognised in the 2nd Century by physician, Galen, who
claimed that is was caused by deprivation of orgasms in “particularly
passionate women.” According to the website, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Hysteria was cured with herbs, sex, or abstinence, treated with fire
for its connection with sorcery, then years later, clinically studied as a
disease and treated with innovative therapies. It was claimed by a
physician in 1859 that symptoms would include nervousness, shortness of breath,
loss of appetite and libido, and irritability. It was also catalogued that
Hysteria was common amongst women who had “a tendency to cause trouble.”

Throughout my art education, I
have been heavily inspired by the Welsh contemporary artist Kayleigh Adams. Her
work, much like my own, is based around subjects such as Feminism, fetishism,
and mental health. Combining 2 of these subjects – Feminism and mental health –
Adams explores the 19th century female-exclusive illness, Hysteria. In this
essay, I intend to investigate the ways in which the subject of Hysteria has
developed in the last 2 centuries. I will be researching artists from the 20th
Century (active 1900-1999) that work with themes related to (but not
exclusively with) Hysteria. Other mental health and feminism based artists will
help me to conclude this study regarding how the subject of hysteria and other
mental health issues of women is dealt with within the art world and how it has
changed in the last century.

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