Mental illness should not be a stigma for those who suffer from it, believes artist Álvaro D. Márquez. In Los Angeles he’s been given wings to shed light on an issue that is very personal to him.
Márquez is the painter behind “Emotional Baggage,” one of 30 angel sculptures that are part of the exhibit “We Are Los Angeles” whose purpose is to generate civic pride among Angelenos.
For Márquez, LA pride means that no city resident should be ashamed of dealing with any mental disorder. “We all carry our own emotional baggage, which affects us in specific ways according to our relative place in society,” he states on the description of his work on the website of the California Community Foundation, sponsor of the exhibit.
Nearly 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder in a given year, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America.
However, mental illness does not impact all individuals and communities the same, says Márquez.
“While mental illness affects people of all socio-economic, racial and gender categories, people from low-income and working poor backgrounds experience vastly different quality-of-life and long-term mental and physical health outcomes than more affluent residents.”
The nonprofit National Alliance of Mental Illness seems to agree with the L.A. painter.
“While Latino communities show similar susceptibility to mental illness as the general population, unfortunately, we experience disparities in access to treatment and in the quality of treatment we receive,” says a page focused on Latino mental health on NAMI’s website. “This inequality puts us at a higher risk for more severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions.”
In an apparent effort to reach out to and educate Latinos and other people of color, Márquez’s angel has a brown face, bears indigenous motifs. “Emotional Baggage” also depicts an interior full of suitcases of different sizes, shapes and colors.
Márquez wants to contribute to a dialogue on mental health among Latinos and other L.A. residents. For that he poses some questions in his work’s description. “What can we gain as a community, by exploring the unspoken, often taboo, notion that we all deal with mental health problems, either through direct experience or through friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors?” he asks. He also advocates solutions. “What could this county and state look like if policy makers prioritized access to preventive mental health services rather than the palliative measure of jailing the mentally ill and punishing the homeless, populations that often turn to drugs and criminalized behavior as coping mechanisms for symptoms of mental illness?”
Márquez gets even more political on social media. “Ever wonder why people in psychiatric emergencies are shot dead by police in a moment of crisis?”, he asks in his Instagram account. “Or why LA County’s Twin Towers jail is the largest mental health facility in the state of CA? How can we begin to address the ongoing transgenerational legacies of trauma from colonialism and racial capitalism? Lastly, how can indigenous practices provide a basis for healing and grounding?”
There are also personal reasons behind Márquez’s “Emotional Baggage” angel. In an interview on the public radio KPCC, the artist disclosed he himself had been treated twice at a psychiatric institution. There was no shame in his voice. You could hear an artist proud of his work, roots and Los Angeles.
“We Are Los Angeles” runs Nov. 12 through 17 at Grand Park, 200 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012.
For more information on the exhibit and the artists, visit: http://calfund.org/centennial/wala/.
For more information on mental health for Latinos, visit: http://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Diverse-Communities/Latino-Mental-Health