Explaining My Depression to My Mother by Sabrina Benaim

Explaining My Depression to My Mother: A Conversation

Mom, my depression is a shape shifter.
One day it is as small as a firefly in the palm of a bear,
The next, it’s the bear.
On those days I play dead until the bear leaves me alone.
I call the bad days: “the Dark Days.”
Mom says, “Try lighting candles.”
When I see a candle, I see the flesh of a church, the flicker of a flame,
Sparks of a memory younger than noon.
I am standing beside her open casket.
It is the moment I learn every person I ever come to know will someday die.
Besides Mom, I’m not afraid of the dark.
Perhaps, that’s part of the problem.
Mom says, “I thought the problem was that you can’t get out of bed.”
I can’t.
Anxiety holds me a hostage inside of my house, inside of my head.
Mom says, “Where did anxiety come from?”
Anxiety is the cousin visiting from out-of-town depression felt obligated to bring to the party.
Mom, I am the party.
Only I am a party I don’t want to be at.
Mom says, “Why don’t you try going to actual parties, see your friends?”
Sure, I make plans. I make plans but I don’t want to go.
I make plans because I know I should want to go. I know sometimes I would have wanted to go.
It’s just not that fun having fun when you don’t want to have fun, Mom.
You see, Mom, each night insomnia sweeps me up in his arms dips me in the kitchen in the small glow of the stove-light.
Insomnia has this romantic way of making the moon feel like perfect company.
Mom says, “Try counting sheep.”
But my mind can only count reasons to stay awake;
So I go for walks; but my stuttering kneecaps clank like silver spoons held in strong arms with loose wrists.
They ring in my ears like clumsy church bells reminding me I am sleepwalking on an ocean of happiness I cannot baptize myself in.
Mom says, “Happy is a decision.”
But my happy is as hollow as a pin pricked egg.
My happy is a high fever that will break.
Mom says I am so good at making something out of nothing and then flat-out asks me if I am afraid of dying.
I am afraid of living.
Mom, I am lonely.
I think I learned that when Dad left how to turn the anger into lonely —
The lonely into busy;
So when I tell you, “I’ve been super busy lately,” I mean I’ve been falling asleep watching Sports Center on the couch
To avoid confronting the empty side of my bed.
But my depression always drags me back to my bed
Until my bones are the forgotten fossils of a skeleton sunken city,
My mouth a bone yard of teeth broken from biting down on themselves.
The hollow auditorium of my chest swoons with echoes of a heartbeat,
But I am a careless tourist here.
I will never truly know everywhere I have been.
Mom still doesn’t understand.
Mom! Can’t you see that neither can I?

What am I Waiting for?

"The arts are in crisis, and we hope for a reaction— ... those in the art community who are voicing concerns are mostly 35 years and older. Meanwhile, the younger generation moves around either in a comfort zone or in confusion"  





In recent decades, visual art has helped to shape public discourses on social, political and educational issues while reflecting on identity and the process toward democracy in many Asian countries. In Indonesia, for instance, during Suharto’s regime (1968–98), art was essentially political. In a subtle way, by exploring around the edges of freedom of expression, art was often oppositional and in protest.

During the Reformation period that followed the fall of Suharto, the art that emerged was primarily educational, community-based and liberating. There was a boom in critical and conceptual art that highlighted infrastructural needs for both galleries and alternative spaces, as art professionals and curators developed exhibition and research programs that encouraged new perspectives on society and history.

The last five years have brought significant changes to the scene in Indonesia, notably the trends for “going global” and the rising influence of market forces. These developments have forced us to reconsider the relevance and function of art. At the moment, it seems like we cannot influence the things happening around us, which results in a situation of passive consumption. If art had once been a way to look at things differently and to alter our perspectives, today the questions are: What do we expect from art? What is its function in a society such as Indonesia? Do we still need art to challenge us?

The younger generation of artists tends to create objects ready to be consumed at commercial galleries and art fairs, the result of their training, which often leads them into this system, and of their attempts to follow in the footsteps of “successful” artists. With no viable public museum for contemporary art that could provide an alternative to the commercial sector, independent art organizations try to fill the gap. As such, the largest challenge facing the Indonesian art community, currently controlled by market forces, is how to ensure the continued support for nonprofit art organizations, so that there is a strong foundation for potent and relevant art movements in the future.

Until recently, several arts organizations, such as Ruangrupa, Indonesian Visual Art Archive, Cemeti Art House and Kelola, have attracted international funding; however, many of the foreign philanthropic foundations that provided this backing are slowly winding down their involvement. As a result, 20-plus arts organizations from various disciplines have come together to create the Indonesian Art Coalition (Koalisi Seni Indonesia), which aims to establish a national collective body that can advocate the importance of art and support nonprofit projects. But for now, with no government cultural strategy, we at Cemeti Art House, along with other nonprofit art and alternative art organizations, must depend on art purchases and fund-raising from private companies and overseas groups.

It is ironic that while today’s art is becoming less exciting and provocative, we are simultaneously witnessing increased attention from a wi der audience. At the opening of ART/JOG12, an art fair with artists but no galleries held in Yogyakarta in July, more than 1,000 people queued up on opening night. Contemporary art is the latest trend in Indonesia; youngsters love to photograph themselves in front of artworks and then post the pictures on Facebook. Local interest from young collectors is also promising.

However, considering the increased commercialization of Indonesian visual art, there should also be a greater emphasis on critical discourse. Hou Hanru addresses the need of curators to encourage both artists and the public in his article “A Third Way,” which appeared in ArtAsiaPacific 80, stating that the place of the curator is in the production of intellectual cultural criticism. However, curators in Indonesia navigate between commercial and alternative initiatives under the term “independent curator.” Galleries “need” independent curators, who function—to be cynical—as brokers, to get access to popular artists or to validate emerging talents. Commercial galleries expect that curators will bring in artworks that will sell. Trapped in this cycle, curators’ choices can hardly avoid being dictated by the market. Moreover, this situation makes it very difficult for a new generation of curators—whom we desperately need—to emerge.

Over the past six months, Cemeti Art House has organized four focus-group discussions with artists, curators and researchers of different generations. Talking to young curators confirmed our worries. In their rush for fame, emerging artists desire to work with older, established curators. This has effectively stifled the unique voice of this new generation, which should be articulated by the emerging artists’ peers who are writers, curators and critics. It also means that emerging curators have fewer chances to develop their own practice and a discourse with their contemporaries. Other reactions from young curators include the difficulty of balancing their curatorial vision with the demands of this money-dominated climate. They often prefer to prolong their studies, or fulfill teaching jobs instead.

The arts are in crisis, and we hope for a reaction—any initiative that could shake things up. But, to be honest, those in the art community who are voicing concerns are mostly 35 years and older. Meanwhile, the younger generation moves around either in a comfort zone or in confusion, not wanting to be patronized by the previous generation and at the same time not having enemies to rebel against. We shall have to wait and see what breaks this stalemate.

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