Art as therapy, coping with mental illness in Indonesia

Mental illness is grossly misunderstood in Indonesia. In some cases, those with mental illness are shackled in chains. But Dwinanda Agung Kristianto found relief in art, and now lives a healthy life.


Senin, 30 Jan 2017 10:31 WIB


Eli Kamilah

Dwinanda Agung Kristianto with his art (Photo: Eli Kamilah)

Dwinanda Agung Kristianto with his art (Photo: Eli Kamilah)

Mental illness is grossly misunderstood in Indonesia. In some cases, those with mental illness are even shackled in chains.

But with proper support and medication, those with mental illnesses can live productive, happy and independent lives. 

For Dwinanda Agung Kristianto, something else has given him relief too – painting. 

Reporter Eli Kamilah hears his story of using art as a way to cope with schizophrenia.

Dwinanda Agung Kristianto welcomes me to his home in East Jakarta.

He lives in a two-story house and his artworks, mostly abstract paintings, are hung in every room. 

One painting titled 'Window' is on display in the living room.

Rather than canvas, the base of the painting is an old blackboard. In the middle there is a scratch of chalk, fashioned in the shape of a window, while on the right side, there is a staircase that leads to a door.

“That door and stairs describe my experience, that it is not easy to recover,” said Dwinanda. 

“That I should reach for every stair. When I arrive at the front of the door, I know I'm a schizophrenic. And there is a glass bottle. It’s my memory about the psychiatrist who said that to eliminate the effects of drugs I have to drink a lot of water,” he told me.

Dwinanda has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a chronic mental disorder where the patient experiences delusions, hallucinations, anxiety and behavioral changes.

Now 33, Dwinanda has lived with schizophrenia for more than 10 years. He explains what it was like at first.

“In 2005 my close family felt that something wrong with me. I talked a lot but my family couldn’t understand me, what I was saying. I was taken to a counselor and pastor but they couldn’t find anything wrong with me, no witchcraft or anything,” recalls Dwinanda.

In Indonesia mental illness is often explained by way of superstition or black magic; the belief that a person suffering from mental illness has been possessed by an evil or bad spirit. 

That’s why it took Dwinanda’s family some time before they took him to a doctor, they didn’t believe it was a medical problem, even though he was clearly suffering.

“Eventually I came to a point where all my sense organs did not work anymore. My eyesight was blurry, I couldn’t smell, my hearing was diminished, my mouth was stiff and my hands were tingling,” explained Dwinanda.

When Dwinanda’s family finally did take him to see a psychiatrist, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The diagnosis, he says, after the physical symptoms and delusions, was a relief.

Dwinanda pulls out a diary from those years, explaining that he wrote a lot during that time.

“I didn’t know if I was delusional or not. I just wrote to lighten the complicated words that appeared in my mind,” Dwinanda said of that time. 

“This writing became material for the psychiatrist to analyze my condition. But at that time I didn’t know what I wrote was delusional, but the people around me knew.”

Dwinanda also uses art as a form of therapy. His scribbles on a paper, he jokes, are his dopamine.

And over the years he has produced hundreds of paintings, which are kept at his gallery in Jakarta, Ruang Seni Ago (RSA). 

Dwinanada has returned to a normal life now, with the help of medication, art and family support.

His father Hadidarmono, explains.

“We helped by supporting him. We helped to remind him. Because he just kept silent, so I talked to him, asked him to walk together with me, to go to a movie or a bookstore. I accompanied him but it was hard at the beginning,” Hadidarmono said.

Experts agree that family support is essential to help relatives suffering from mental illness.

As for Dwinanda, he is proof that those with mental illness can work to overcome them.

This year he is even planning a solo exhibition of his artwork, including some works that have been stored away for years.

“I saved some of my paintings for a solo exhibition, called Jejak Waktu, or Traces of Time 2017. I have let them get dusty and some have lizard poo on them but I will show whatever their conditions,” Dwinanda resolved.



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