From darkness to light: Exhibition sheds light on mental illness

For Ms Fong MinHui, life has been a continuous journey from darkness to light and back again. Given that photography is in essence a study of light, she found that it best expressed what she was going through.

Depicting not only her struggles with the traumatic memories of growing up in a toxic and abusive environment, but also her journey of self-discovery and healing, circular motifs, shadows and light feature strongly in a series of eight photographs taken by the principal auditor.

Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let it go. Recovery isn’t linear. There will be days where you find yourself spiralling down again. It’s easy to forget how far we have come especially in times of darkness. But then again, without the darkness, how are we going to see the stars? PHOTO: LI MING
I felt like I was being imprisoned, my addiction had arrested me. The only place where I felt truly in my own skin and free to express myself was when I played football. As I grew older, football started to slowly fade to black. Innocent exploration of mind/mood-altering substances with friends whom I’d put on a pedestal turned to insidious addiction with time and my life unravelled. Life happens, but I no longer look to drink or drug as the solution. PHOTO: BENJAMIN
Drawn to something deeper, I couldn't understand why, although there's light, I was drawn to depths. In despair, there is also beauty. The simple act of observing the world, capturing it on photo and writing was the "pause" that helped me peer into the pain. PHOTO: JOY

Suppressed memories had preyed on her insecurities, leading to several suicide attempts.

The 32-year-old was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in November 2018 and her journey of recovery has been fraught with relapses.

“I no longer yearn to belong, as I used to. I speak openly about my struggles, because I hope that my story will illuminate the path out of the darkness and towards recovery for others struggling in silence,” says Ms Fong.

She is one of 24 people with the lived experience of a mental health condition who participated in PhotoStory: From Darkness to Light – a local initiative that celebrates the journey of mental health recovery through visual imagery.

Believe that rainbows lie ahead. When I was 19, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression. It’s been more than a decade living with mental health challenges. I believe we have to hold on to hope – some days we are running towards hope, some days we are crawling – it is OK, they are all steps forward. PHOTO: SUMAIYAH
Recovery is being able to see beyond my unhealthy obsessions to the beauty right in front of me. Like the vast sky, my state of mind can be clear; or even a storm sometimes. Regardless, like the clouds, I know they too will pass. PHOTO: BERNARDETTE
I received my diagnosis of psychosis in 2012 and was told there is no cure and that I will likely be on medication for the rest of my life. Once I accepted my condition, I started to find joy in the little things in life. PHOTO: DESMOND

It is organised by Resilience Collective, a charity focused on empowering peers, or people who have experienced a mental health condition. Resilience Collective is supported by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and the Agency for Integrated Care, and is a partner of Beyond the Label, a mental health anti-stigma campaign under NCSS.

Resilience Collective executive director Goh Shuet-Li said: “The pandemic and its related challenges have brought to the fore the relevance of mental health to all of us and the fact that we all experience mental health challenges, but to varying degrees. You can have poor mental health but not necessarily be diagnosed with a mental illness. Hence, mental health is still relevant to you.”

Under the guidance of five photographers who volunteered as mentors over 35 weeks, participants began with workshops last January before the Covid-19 pandemic shifted the sessions online.

Lazing in bed, I hear the birds and crickets sing. I am grateful. In 2017, I suspected I had obsessive compulsive disorder. Even when I finally saw a psychiatrist, I took my medication in secret. I do get relapses. But each time I learn more about myself and build up my coping skills. PHOTO: KAREN
The space-time continuum climbing out of the pit was not a smooth journey. But with support from close friends, space away from the triggers, and time for wounds to heal, I could slowly see colour in my world again. It took about two years to recover, and eventually colour started to return to my life. PHOTO: KIM FUNG

Their personal experiences with mental illness and ongoing recovery as told through the lens of their camera will be featured in an exhibition open to the public from Friday to Jan 27 at the third-floor atrium of Raffles City Shopping Centre. Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin will officiate it this Thursday evening.

Curated by Temasek Polytechnic photography lecturer Chow Chee Yong, 51, one of the photographer mentors, more than 140 works will be displayed in the showcase of stories about darkness and pain, of silent struggles, and of how holding on to hope brought recovery, and newfound strength and resilience.

“The photographs in this exhibition are translations of the mental state during a certain period, be it positive or negative. These images may not exude the finesse of a fine art exhibition, but they are genuine expressions from the heart and mean greatly to those who captured them,” says Mr Chow.


I grew up psychologically and emotionally abused. Since being diagnosed with major depressive disorder in November 2018, I have been on my journey of recovery, and self-discovery. I speak openly about my struggles, because I hope that my story will illuminate the path out of the darkness and towards recovery for others struggling in silence. PHOTO: MINHUI
I try to hide them, but sometimes people still notice my scars. I tell them that my skin is just sensitive - though a small part of me wishes to say that what’s really sensitive is my heart. Eight years later, I am steadily on the road to recovery. I've learnt to channel my stress into exercise, and my emotions into creative expression through art and photography. PHOTO: SHERYL
The books that helped me to heal last year. The potted plants represent hope for me to heal. It was a struggle to get out of bed, to remove the self-doubt. Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, I’ve always asked myself if there is a better future despite my mental health challenges. But I keep trying, hoping, believing in myself that one day, I can be the best version of myself. PHOTO: AFIQAH

Members of the public will be able to adopt limited photographic prints of various sizes by the participants for a donation of $200 to $499 (A4-size print), $500 to $999 (A3-size print), and $1,000 and above (A2-size print). They may also adopt a set of 16 postcards for a donation of $100 to $199.

The proceeds will support recovery programmes for people with mental health conditions and initiatives that reach out to those at risk.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the number of visitors in the exhibition space is limited. Visitor entry will be staggered to meet safe distancing requirements. To ensure a smooth experience at the exhibition, members of the public are advised to book visiting slots online.

For more details, please visit this website.