"I am on a journey to heal myself through my art and hopefully help others."
"I couldn't talk or communicate effectively for much of my life and that left art as the only healing tool in my very silent world."
I started painting and self-harming at the age of three. I use art to cope with the symptoms of my trauma and mental illness. I am a self-taught artist. I prefer to create alone, in self-isolation. I believe in the power of transcendence through the arts, honoring the process more than the presentation.
I perform as an actor under the stage name, Shyla Idris. I am a native New Yorker of Trinidadian Indian and German American descent, often taking on racially ambiguous roles. Coming from a severely dysfunctional family which led to group homes and institutionalization in my teenage years, I cut my outsider artist teeth at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s renowned ‘Living Museum’ art rehabilitation program. I was in the vanguard of the 'Girl, Interrupted' female asylum artist wave that has in twenty years become the new normal, yet I have maintained the raw essence of that genre imbued with a 21st century sensibility.
I create playful worlds – all of them raw, intuitive, impulsive, direct, emotional, psychedelic, and whimsical. I like to incorporate text and stream of consciousness writing in my art, including messages from my late twin brother. There are also elements of spiritual symbolism from my Trinidadian Indian (Voodoo/Hindu) ancestry and hand-sewn fabric throughout my work. I work in small and large format encompassing textile, mixed media, painting, body prints, and hand-made dolls.
"All my dolls are healing dolls."
"Journalist Edward M. Gomez of Brut Journal coined my 'Asylum Dolls', "Healing Dolls" when we first met at NYC Outsider Art Fair in 2023. We had a profound connection immediately and he 'got' me and my work. I am very grateful to have met him and his support. Healing Pillows and Healing Dolls celebrate irreplaceable female icons in history such as Harriet Tubman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as well as everyday dolls with inspirational messages of hope and healing meant to comfort. "
"Art comes from pain. Art is a soul exchange."
Asylum Dolls is an ongoing art series consisting of icons and the average gal. The common thread is mental illness. The icons represented are women in history I identify with because of similarities in trauma, mental illness and confinement to psychiatric hospitals. Authentic psych hospital gowns worn during my inpatient stays are repurposed and incorporated in some of these works.
I particularly enjoy reading letters, quotes, and other personal writings of the famous figures represented in this series. Their actual words are incorporated on the bodies of the dolls. On the fictional characters, the author’s words are used to further bring life to the dolls.
The Asylum Doll series started from a stick figure drawing representing myself called ‘Girl In Restraints’. As a teenager and young adult, I frequented Emergency Rooms and often found myself in restraints. For years I wanted to turn this 2D drawing series into a 3D series but was afraid I could not pull it off, until one day I mustered up the courage to experiment and make my first doll, ‘Girl In Restraints’, a self-portrait. It then led into this series ‘Asylum Dolls’ as I reflected on my own hospitalizations and explored women in history I identified with.
A few of my favorite dolls in the series are Marilyn Monroe, Ophelia and Joan of Arc. The hand-sewn elements are a throwback to my childhood, taking my life back from my abusive mother, who refused to let me sew or be creative. However, both my grandmothers were seamstresses, so I feel like I am keeping a family tradition and legacy in my work.
I think this series is important because there are still people in the back wards of the asylum, some of them we know, some of them we don't. One of them could have been me.
"I am an artist. God tells me what to create. I am the vessel, the messenger. I conjure..."
This series aims to protect animals and the environment while inviting the viewer on a spiritual journey via the octopus. In my Spiritual Fabric Octopus Series, I substitute the octopus for the Hindu Gods as well as Christ. I started this work after the passing of my father (Lutheran/Christian). I had a vision/hallucination of an octopus being crucified. Later on I dreamed of the Hindu God Ganesha as an octopus. The tie-dye psychedelic fabric represents the chakras. The hand- sewn elements is a throwback to my childhood, taking my life back from my abusive mother. Was it a symptom of my mental illness or was it salvation from God?
Art Career Highlights:
Career highlights include exhibiting in the 'First European Outsider Art Fair' Vienna, Austria in 2008 as an artist with The Living Museum, 'NYC Outsider Art Fair' in 2018 via Andrew Edlin Gallery, my first Solo Exhibition 'Escaping Childhood' with Institute of Mental Health at City Arts Nottingham, UK in 2021 and showing with Fountain House Gallery in the NYC Outsider Art Fair in 2022 and 2023 with Fountain House Gallery.
I do not have exclusive gallery representation. I am a member of The Living Museum, Fountain House Gallery, ArtLifting and Outside In.
You can also view my work on Artsy.
Artwork via ArtLifting is in the Collection of:
Google, Fifth Third Bank, Avanath, Bank of America, META Real Estate, RSM Consulting, E*Trade, Humana, EmblemHealth, DC FLEX, Ecomm, EQT Exeter, Accenture NYC, Alder Biopharmaceuticals, EMD Serono, AKQA, Onsite Dental, Lendlease, The Hartford, Stoneleigh, Interior Architects, Mastercard Murals, Vanguard, Ellicott Development and Warnermedia. Susan's ArtLifting work is also available for sale with DEMDACO, West Elm and Way Fair.
When I am not working on my art, I enjoy spending time with my two rescued cats Cray Cray and Schizy and feeding and giving water to the homeless cats, squirrels and pigeons in my neighborhood.
Some of my ‘Cat Food Kitties’ collage artwork made with recycled cat food labels will be donated and exhibited in the upcoming Cat Museum opening soon in NYC.
I dedicate my work to my late twin brother, Robert.
SHOP ARTSY ARTLIFTING
SHOP Susan's Art Book 'Inside Outside' at Fountain House Gallery