Stitched Up

Textile works from The Cunningham Dax Collection of Psychiatric Art are exhibited for the very first time.


This rare collection of textiles is the result of a remarkable post World War II experiment in rehabilitation by needlework. Wool stored in local townships in England during the War was collected and sorted by colour and thickness. It was then donated to a ward of 70 mentally ill women who could sew with it whatever they wished. The works on view provide an insight into the conditions of mental illness.


The selection comprises richly embroidered jackets, trousers, cushion covers, canvas work embroideries and knitted sculptures. The makers have not been constrained by the conventional dictates of pattern and prescribed stitching. The works are inventive and sophisticated and demonstrate an untamed use of colour. These works will inspire debate about links between creativity, rationality and illness.


Dr. Eric Cunningham Dax brought samples of the works to Australia in 1952 and these form part of the collection that was established in 1985. The Collection is part of the Mental Health Research Institute, Australia’s only independent psychiatric research organisation.


These extraordinary costumes, conceived not as art forms but as expressions of the human mind, offer an engaging human face to mental illness.


Image: Short Jacket 2000.012