In an effort to heal herself, Susan Spangenberg (aka Shyla Idris) has documented her life story in many different artistic mediums including her artwork. She is the writer/performer of the multi-character solo play 'RUN. HIDE. BE QUIET.' and the director of the documentary short film 'RELEASED'. Susan is also the author of the asylum photography book, 'Inside Outside' and she is currently working on her memoir, 'Girl In Restraints'.
Check out Susan's first Solo Exhibition 'Escaping Childhood' with Institute of Mental Health, City Arts Nottingham, United Kingdom. 6/10/2021-7/10/2021 Q & A Live Stream Talk Thursday June 17, 2021 at 12:30pm noon EST in NYC/ 5:30pm UK. Link to Show
Susan's Artwork via ArtLifting is in the Collection of:
Google, RSM Consulting, E*Trade, Humana, EmblemHealth, Accenture NYC, Alder Biopharmaceuticals, EMD Serono, AKQA, Onsite Dental, Lendlease, The Hartford and Warnermedia. Susan's ArtLifting work is also available for sale on West Elm and Way Fair.
Susan is an untrained self-taught outsider artist with mental illness. She prefers to create alone, in self-isolation. She uses art to cope with the symptoms of her trauma and mental illness. Susan believes in the power of transcendence through the arts, honoring the process, not the presentation.
Career highlights include Susan exhibiting in the 'First European Outsider Art Fair Osterreichische Nationalbibeliothek' Vienna, Austria in 2008 as an artist with The Living Museum, 'NYC Outsider Art Fair' in 2018 via Andrew Edlin Gallery and her first Solo Exhibition 'Escaping Childhood' with Institute of Mental Health, City Arts Nottingham, United Kingdom in 2021.
Susan does not have gallery representation. However, she is a member artist with the following organizations:
Susan's Bio / Artist Statement:
Coming from a severely dysfunctional family which led to group homes and institutionalization in her teenage years, Susan cut her outsider artist teeth at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s renown ‘Living Museum’ art rehabilitation program. She was in the vanguard of the 'Girl, Interrupted' female asylum artist wave that has in twenty years become the new normal, yet Susan has maintained the raw essence of that genre imbued with a twenty-first century sensibility.
Susan’s work is autobiographical, commenting on her experience in the mental health system as well as touching upon other relevant social issues. All of Susan's art comes from a personal place. Susan likes to incorporate text and writing into her art, including messages from her late twin brother Robert. There are also elements of spiritual symbolism from her East Indian ancestry, samples of her psychotropic medication and hand sewn fabric throughout her work. She works in small and large-scale format encompassing textile, mixed media and painting.
Susan hopes to inspire generations of female artists to document their trauma, inequality, and identity and show how these realities have affected them – and to give female artists the freedom to speak out as she has.
"I paint so I don't kill myself. I create to stay alive. I've been suicidal since the age of three. I hope others will find refuge and validation through my work. Though I've been diagnosed with a mental illness, pain is universal. My goal is to not only keep myself afloat, but send others sailing."
Susan's UNSANE artwork has been described as raw, intuitive, impulsive, direct, emotional and whimsical. Her work has been compared to Art Brut, Outsider Art, Visionary Art and Expressionism. Her SANE artwork is Abstract.
"When I first started therapy, I remember my psychoanalyst saying that half of me was crazy, the other half sane. We just have to get the sane part of you stronger. " So, I decided to separate my artwork into SANE and UNSANE.
Susan started painting and self-harming at the age of three. Susan writes of her experience, “I could not talk or communicate effectively for much of my life and that left Art as the only healing tool in my very silent world. The Arts were not present or encouraged in my home.”
Coming from an abusive household where she was the family caretaker, did not leave Susan any time for herself. Susan further isolated herself when she suffered the devastating loss of her twin brother Robert, dying of a drug overdose. She did not pick up painting again until her early twenties, while a patient at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s art/rehab program, ‘The Living Museum' NY in 1995. Susan became the main subject of the HBO Documentary, 'The Living Museum' in 1999, directed by Jessica Yu. HBO funded the film based on Susan's footage. Having second thoughts and pulling out of the film led to a rift between her and the program's director, psychologist Janos Marton who manhandled her and threw her out of her studio, punishing her as a result. He worried about losing his position there and going back to work on the wards. There was a risk of the film not being made without her. At that point the Office of Mental Health and Creedmoor were on the brink of closing the program, until the promise of a film would bring them positive exposure. Mr. Marton felt Susan should sacrifice herself for the other artists there. ('The Living Museum' was the brain child of it's first Director, the late great Polish artist/actor Bolek Greczynski.)
For the record Susan states she was treated well by HBO, and had she not been living at home with her parents, in better living circumstances, she would have remained in the film. It is the hospital staff she had a disconnect with.
Upon losing her connection at The Living Museum, Susan spent ten years in her bedroom rarely going out or making art as her Depression worsened.
Feeling a loss of community with her former art program, she turned to acting, writing and film to express herself. So began her journey of socialization and telling her story of physical and sexual abuse, racial identity, growing up with poverty, violence, parental alcoholism and the unforgiving secondary diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Susan currently has the diagnosis of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but chooses to pay less attention to these labels.
Failed by the system after forty plus hospitalizations and five suicide attempts, Susan decided to pay out of pocket for a sliding scale psychoanalyst who she says changed her life. He supported her along her artistic journey.
Susan spent thirty years in and out of mental hospitals. Her story is reflected in her work, revealing the trauma that brought her into the mental health system, the horrors endured in the asylums and the insight and awareness that allows her to transcend and heal.
Susan joined Fountain House Gallery in 2015 and so regained a sense of community she had lost. (Susan hopes to return to The Living Museum in the near future.)
Susan never knows what she will work on next. She goes wherever her mood takes her. She thanks her psychoanalyst for being her lifeline and her rescued cat Cray Cray for companionship. She dedicates her work to her late twin brother, Robert.
“Art allows me to express the thoughts and feelings that terrify me. The act of creating is painful but healing at the same time."
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