A Girl as Mad as Birds (Nellie Bly and the Lunatics Ball)
August 19 — September 23, 2023
Artist Cheryl Parry’s installation of portraits, poetic objects, preserved bird skins, nests and text explores the common belief in 19th-century psychiatry that women were predisposed to madness. The exhibition will include a series of portraits that are loosely based on photographs taken by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond from 1848 to 1858, who used the new art form of photography to record the features of female patients to diagnose their “illness”.
The Lunatic’s Ball was an event that took place in many asylums where, in tragic irony, because mistreatment was constant, doctors, attendants and patients all danced together.
Journalist Nellie Bly’s exposé, Ten Days in a Madhouse (1887) shed light on the misdiagnosis and horrific treatment of patients at Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). Although forced into silence, every woman imagined freedom as “a girl mad as birds”.
The quoted title and text in this exhibition are from the poem, “Love in the Asylum” by Dylan Thomas.
Cheryl Parry is a 2022 Puffin Foundation Grantee for her project, A Girl as Mad as Birds (Nelly Bly and the Lunatics Ball)