Women of a Nervous Disposition coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week, which falls on Monday 8 – Sunday 14 May. The exhibition looks to address historical and fictional women who’ve been silenced by patriarchy and normative culture for being different, and who’ve been driven to emotional and mental collapse. In Women of a Nervous Disposition, Denise Weston successfully offers a space to re-examine the villainized and forgotten women of the past, and shows that their ‘madness’ was a result of the oppressive societies they lived in.
The larger paintings depict three women: the sculptor Camille Claudel (1864-1943); the writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935); and the character of ‘Sister Ruth’ from the novel and film, Black Narcissus (Rumer Godden, 1939, novel; Powell & Pressburger, 1947, film).
The connection between these women is that their societies restricted their autonomy and creativity. Instead of adhering to the gendered roles expected of them, they have all rejected them. For instance, Claudel and Gilman were highly active in their professions as sculptor and writer, when women of their time were expected to be passive and remain in the domestic realm. The negative reactions from their societies fuelled their depression, anxiety, and their rebellion. As a result, they were labelled as ‘mentally ill’ or ‘mad’.