IMPORTANT NOTE: The concept and intensely aggressive and expressive nature of this project is purposely designed to shock and galvanize the onlooker. This choice was purposely made in response to the frustration the artist feels regarding the dismissive attitudes and misconceptions people have about anxiety and its effects. The purpose of both "Hidden Demons" and "Emo Bunny" is to highlight and create solutions to help those with mental illness and to lessen stigma. These projects unite artists and organizations to create a space for mentally ill people and to raise awareness.
“Hidden Demons of Anxiety” is a raw, surrealistic interpretation of my daily struggles with anxiety which won the Silver Key Portfolio award in the NH Scholastic Art and Writing Regional Competition in 2018. It is meant to draw the viewer into what it feels like to have an anxiety disorder or panic attack. While in the process of figuring out a chronic illness diagnosis, I learned from my therapist that Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) was worsening my symptoms.
Severe bullying in middle school worsened my health, forcing me to enter online schooling. The trauma from it caused my anxiety to increase. Fascinated with Japanese art and culture from living in Japan when I was little, I found peace by creating artwork based upon these fond memories. Those memories of Japan served to anchor me during the time of crisis after the bullying. I knew there were people in the world who cared about me and accepted me for who I am because I experienced this from the many friends I made when I lived there. Knowing this gave me hope and courage for my future allowing me to keep going during the darkest of times.
I based each picture on Japanese Noh masks to represent the anguish anxiety causes. These Noh masks were a major part of my childhood in Japan. The masks were present at Japanese festivals, in Japanese folktales read to us in preschool and kindergarten, picture books, children’s cartoons, manga and plays. I was surrounded by Shintoism, Buddhism, and demon/devil (oni) masks along with various kinds of fox (kitsune) masks. Kitsune masks belong to mask subsections called Kyogen, which is comedic theatre, and Kagura, which is Shinto ritualistic dance. Being born into Buddhism, I fell in love with Japanese culture since I saw constant representation of my practice in every day life.
The masks transport each individual into a demonic realm due to the pain of wearing a fake image. For years I created a happy image of myself, not letting people know I was suffering from anxiety. For others, the image they create might make it hard to seek help for their mental illnesses: they’ve made this illusion of themselves that looks perfect. The pieces represent how eventually the fake image, the mask, takes over and becomes a demon. People see the mask you’ve created as the true you; it looks happy and upbeat to them. In reality, only you can see that it’s a demon hurting you. The people I’ve drawn are experiencing anxiety because they feel imprisoned by their masks. The masks have become an embodiment of their anxiety.
I’ve made each body female as each piece is related to my personal struggles as a young woman living with an anxiety disorder. They are all drawn as weakened nude bodies because I wanted to show how anxiety makes you feel weak and vulnerable. The censorship emphasizes the vulnerability. Each figure is mostly black and white because I wanted to make each of them have a neutral, uniform appearance. At the same time, I wanted to incorporate black and white because I wanted to bring my comic art style into the piece. Comic style art tends to be more accessible and exciting to young people. Additionally, the black and white brings out the bright, vibrant colors of the masks since they’re the highlight of each piece. The neutral colors allow one to go beyond race or skin color because anxiety can affect anyone. Despite the sex of each person being female, their body movement/language along with the expressions of their masks and the neutrality of their skin tones makes this work accessible and relatable to all types of people.
My goal with this series is to show anxiety is a serious mental illness, which causes many young people to suffer silently. I feel an art show/presentation will give me the opportunity to communicate how anxiety affects a person like me and to raise awareness. At the same time, I feel that people who suffer from other mental illnesses such as depression, personality disorders, and other types of anxiety disorders can relate to these pieces, as it has an overall message of feeling limited, misunderstood and isolated due to a mental illness. It also expresses the feeling of being taken over by your mental illness, hence the masks pulling faces apart and refusing to come off their bodies. Expressing this perspective through these provocative pieces can spark discussion and raise awareness about how mental illness feels and how painful it can be. In doing so, I hope other young people would feel more comfortable openly sharing their struggles.