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Everybody has a Wall of Shame

April 22, 2010

….Only in our case, the shame is sometimes compounded by unintentional confusion.  For those who do not know, ground was broken this year on the new home of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto (CAMH).  It’s being built on the site of the old Provincial Lunatic Asylum at 999 Queen Street (here is their site for the redevelopment). 

Copyright 2004, Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto

Portions of the original structure, including the boundary wall, were built by “patients” (read, inmates) used as nothing less than slave labour, so the context of one particularly graffitoed surviving Wall (it has certainly earned  its  capitalization) therefore means a lot to us–as it should to anyone with a conscience.  It  has become a cause celebre in the Mad/Survivor community, thanks to York University Mad historian Geoffrey Reaume, who first discovered the conditions of its construction.

Well, with Mental Health Week coming up at the beginning of May, I thought I’d introduce you not only to the Wall, but also to the controversy surrounding its appropriation by Tom Lackey, the ostensibly well-intentioned photographer.  It all has to do with the eventual purpose to which  photographs of the Wall were put in light of a CAMH fundraiser.  Read Geoffrey Reaume’s article in NOW (November 15, 2007).  While this event took place in 2007, it is symptomatic of appropriation issues everywhere.

For more about the Wall and psychiatric survivor history, visit the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto.

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