Is artistic expression a viable way to deal with mental challenges? Judging by hard work Bezerk Productionsthe answer is “yes”.
Linda Sibiuthe local artist who launched the non-profit arts group – known as “Broken eggs” In 2001, he has worked in various media including painting, installation and performance art since the mid-1980s. The goal of Bezerk is twofold: to raise awareness about interdisciplinary art for people with severe mental disabilities and also to provide unique educational art and career opportunities for this often underserved population.
“I noticed I had schizophrenia when I was working on Skid Row,” says Sibiu, who has since been known as a “schizophrenic artist.” After a group called Operation Hammer was started, she was encouraged to “go out” and tell people she had schizophrenia because that would allow others with the condition to do the same.
“I did it publicly in 1991, and I’ve been dealing with these issues ever since,” she says, referring to the stigma against people with schizophrenia and other mental health issues. Over the years, Sibio has found her own support group of artists, administrators, and other people who value and appreciate her work.
“They give me advice and when I get frustrated, they talk to me and encourage me to keep working to do my best job,” she says. “So for mentally challenged people trying to enter the art world, everyone they meet can be a potential supporter. It’s important to nurture those relationships, and I try to help people with that.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 percent of adults in the United States experienced a mental illness in 2020. That means 52.9 million people, or one in five adults. Additionally, one in 20 American adults develops a serious mental illness each year, 50 percent of all lifelong mental illnesses begin at age 14, and 75 percent by age 24.
Recently, Bezerk Productions received a grant from Inland Empire Community Foundation. The money helped Sibio prepare for a presentation at a recent Zoom show hosted by Franklin Furnace, an organization that provides artists with physical and virtual venues to display their “time-based art.”
The story of Sibiu, which is derived from one of her biggest works called “The Guillotine of Wall Street”, revolves around the plight of today’s youth, especially gun violence.
“We have been able to share what we do through the medium of performance in writing and visual art with a national community of artists,” Sibio says of the grant. “People from all over the country attended, especially those with mental health issues. The grant helped us make that happen because part of the money we received from the Mental Health Services Act doesn’t really cover this type of activity.”
Video documentation and questions and answers for the work, called “Connections,” is available at the Franklin Furness Archive (franklinfurnace.org/cracked-eggs).
Overall, Bezerk Productions has seen progress in its networking program.
“Artists can write us a letter or email, and we will do whatever we can to help them,” Sibiu says, adding that even helping with the artist’s base needs, such as art supplies, or helping them get showcased at a prestigious gallery, filters are in the mix .
Sibiu has always been concerned with “the fringe of society and how this affects culture as a whole. Displaying a rare depth in her artwork, she leans heavily on social issues – from mental illness, homelessness, gangs to suicide, drug addiction, mass murder and prostitution – with “progressive elements in design and form, thus creating my sub-cultural language.”
She says of her “condition” that she appreciates the grace she has experienced over the years.
“I grew up in an orphanage, and my childhood was very difficult,” admits Sibiu. Expressing myself helps me stay in touch with my roots, but also erase my roots and deal with trauma in a positive way—getting it out of my body through catharsis—so that I can focus better when I’m doing art. I create these very detailed panels, and it can take a year to get them done. I can focus as much as anyone does when environmental trash is removed from my diagnosis.
“Often, people with diseases have grown up in very poor environments,” she asserts. “But it’s not the illness that’s really causing them the problem because there are good traits of schizophrenia — it can make you more creative and such. People with mental illnesses can come from these ‘bad’ environments, so it can be helpful to get rid of Those “environmental stuff.” I hope the work I do helps create awareness about that.”
Learn more about Linda Sibio and Bezerk Productions on the site crazyforaday.com/linda-sibio.
The Inland Empire Community Foundation promotes Inland Southern California through philanthropy. Learn more through iegives.org.