Crazy Art: NAEMI Group Exhibit Shows Work by Mentally Ill Artists

Sebastian Ferreira only considers his art complete once he has painted over his past mistakes. A frenzy of lines and shapes intertwine to create a bustling metropolis.

His work is the byproduct of mental illness.

In the stylistic tradition of horror vacui, Latin for "fear of empty space," Ferreira uses his compulsion to turn a blank canvas into the recreation of cities that fascinate him. He is one of the many self-taught artists whose work will be on display at the 24th annual NAEMI Art Exhibit premiering during the Coconut Grove Gallery Walk this Saturday.

National Art Exhibitions by the Mentally Ill is dedicated to the exhibition of art created by talented individuals recovering from mental illness; the art of the outsider in the contemporary world.

The art brut approach by patients is "the last bastion of the creative rebellion against the power of the system," said Juan Martin, founder and executive director of NAEMI.

Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson-Janssen, the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council, and Miami-Dade county commissioners, the event will display 40 pieces by artists from Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Spain, Peru and the United States. The artwork will be available for purchase with the proceeds benefiting the artists and NAEMI's aim to help them, including funding activities of the patients in institutional programs.

Martin and his wife, Silvia Quintana, established NAEMI in 1988 when Martin was at the Miami Mental Health Center, where he worked as a therapist for 12 years.

"At that moment I was collecting Latin American art, and one day I saw some of this artwork made by one person in the program where I worked," Martin said.

Astounded that the patient had never received formal training, Martin combined his love for art with his desire to diminish the stigma associated with mental illness.

NAEMI will host the exhibit until May 26th to celebrate May as Mental Health Month.

Martin is also working on an exhibit in collaboration with El Frente de los Artistas del Borda, the first psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires. "We Are Only Alive When We Dream" is a photo series of 38 black and white pictures taken with pinhole cameras by the patients from the Borda Center. One of the photos from the collection will be displayed at the art show this month, before the full exhibit shows in Argentina, Belgium, and Spain.

The NAEMI exhibit takes place at Rodez Art Gallery at Cocowalk, 3015 Grand Ave., Suite 237, Coconut Grove, and will open as part of the Coconut Grove Gallery Walk Saturday, May 5, from 7 to 10 p.m. Call 786-467-7111.

--Briana Saati

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