SHANE GETTING TO THE ART OF MEN’S MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
A WEXFORD artist, whose first solo exhibition opens at Wexford Arts Centre this weekend, is tackling the topic of male mental health and suicide through his new body of work.
Shane Keeling’s show ‘BadMan Oh Man’ opens on Saturday in association with First Fortnight and Wexford Arts Centre. First Fortnight is a charity that challenges mental health prejudice through art and cultural events.
Shane graduated from the National College of Art and Design last year and was immediately asked if he would be interested in working with First Fortnight.
‘I jumped at the opportunity as it is exactly the kind of avenue I wanted to go down. I can continue to make art that I am passionate about while also being a spokesperson for mental health.’
Shane started working on the exhibition over a year ago and said it had initially intended to glorify masculinity. ‘But once I started researching what it means to be a man in modern-day Ireland, I came across some pretty horrific statistics.’
Reading about Ireland’s suicide rates for people aged 19 to 24, he learned that men in his own age demographic were three times more likely than any other to die by suicide.
Shane said: ‘This forced me to critically analyse myself and the environment that I grew up in, in an attempt to understand why these statistics exist. I went to school in an all-boys secondary school in Enniscorthy. Social status was defined by how many girls you’ve slept with, how cool your car was, how good you were at sport and how handy you were in a scrap. Any one who had interests outside of this was ridiculed, bullied and made to feel inadequate.’
He felt that young Irish men did not allow each other to display emotions beyond those of aggression and manliness, and anyone who did was labelled ‘soft’ and emasculated.
‘This toxic ‘lad culture’ stops young men from being able to openly express their true emotions to even their closest friends for fear of being exiled from their group.’
Shane feels that this, combined with traumatic childhood experiences, the loss of a loved one or important relationship, and Ireland’s ever growing drug and alcohol problems, creates a deadly cocktail that makes men feel as though there is no hope outside of suicide.
He also acknowledges that he was and, to some extent, remains part of that culture, as he retains some of the traits inherited from being part of that environment.
He said: ‘I spend most of my days looking at football and watching videos of lads boxing the heads off each other on YouTube. I still find myself being drawn to groups that are male dominated and having misogynistic thoughts that were drilled into me as a teenager by my peers. The difference is now I see the error in my thought process. I can catch them when they are in full swing and I can change the way my brain works. It has helped me become a more compassionate, empathic and happier human being.’
He hopes that by addressing the issue from within that he will give young men of his age the courage to call for change.
‘This way, we can have a society of compassionate young men who aren’t afraid to be their true selves and speak their true emotions without fear.’
‘BadMan Oh Man’ is Shane’s first solo exhibition but his work has featured in several magazines including IMAGE magazine and ‘Ceramic Ireland’. His work has been displayed in many galleries.
He works in all avenues of artistic expression including painting, sculpture and performance but ceramic is his preferred material.
Artist Shane Keeling (left) and some of his work on display at Wexford Arts Centre from Saturday.