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Behind Walls – Sammalung Prinzhorm, Germany

24 Mar — 31 Jul 2022

Special Exhibition

Behind Walls

Photography in Swiss Psychiatric Institutions, 1880–1935

24 March to 31 July 2022

Many hospital archives preserve a treasure trove of historical photographs and glass slides from around 1900, when these institutions were being professionalized, modernized and restructured. It was usually the psychiatrists themselves behind the camera. The photos “materialize” the doctor’s view of the institution and its surroundings, of the patients, and of everyday work, but also of leisure time and parties, and of the nursing staff. Psychiatrists used photographs in lectures, and provided medical publications with a wealth of illustrative material. Photographs were used effectively in public relations or for entertainment purposes. The photographic medium (and soon also that of film) seems to have virtually given wings to psychiatry.

For the first time, the exhibition “Behind Walls” shows a selection of extensive Swiss archives, and examines the photographs in terms of their function and mode of action. It also poses sociopolitical questions: What messages did the medium of photography convey? Are mental illnesses visible in photographs? Were patients asked for their consent?

The exhibition is supplemented by works from the Prinzhorn Collection, which reflect everyday life in mental institutions around 1900 from the perspective of patients, as well as works created in corresponding Swiss institutions.

An exhibition project by Katrin Luchsinger, Stefanie Hoch and the Kunstmuseum Thurgau.

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