Birmingham illustrator addresses silent mental health struggles of young black men in exhibition

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Twenty-four year-old Amarno Inai, from Birmingham, will see his debut art exhibition, ‘Katharsis’, open to the public this Saturday.

Katharsis, which will be on display at The Gap in Balsall Heath, showcases a series of Amarno’s illustrations, which explore and express his struggles with mental health as a young black man.

He said he hopes it will: “encourage other black men to come together to recognise the problems we face, and initiate a dialogue around it.”

Amarno used the arts as a way of coping with his mental health struggles. Credit Amarno Inai/Punch Records

Mental illness is a prevalent issue for black communities – NHS data shows black individuals are over four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than their white counterparts.

Amarno, who faced periods of depression and anxiety, explained his struggles stemmed from: “A conflict between what I felt I should be, and what I wanted to be.”

“It got to a point where I felt there was no point trying to do anything. I felt worthless, and I felt lost in the world.”

Amarno Inai

Amarno began using art to help him cope, forming Katharsis. “It is a visual journal of my experience with mental health,” he said.

“It shows a journey – at each stage, I would draw how I was feeling,” he added.

An example of Amarno’s work, which will be on display on Saturday. Credit Amarno Inai/Punch Records

Care Quality Commission revealed that, while black men are over-represented in rates of detention under the Mental Health Act, their first contact with services is often late into their illness, rather than when they first experience it.

Amarno believes this is due to social expectations, which prevent black men from speaking up about their feelings until it’s too late: “There is a very strong image of masculinity present in black communities.”

“It tells us black men that we need to be tough, and not to show our emotions,” he added.

Through Katharsis, he hopes to tackle this social barrier by encouraging other black men to speak about their struggles – and it’s already having an impact.

“Lots of black men have seen my pictures and said: ‘That’s how I’ve been feeling’.”

Amarno Inai
Amarno’s art represents all the different emotions he went through in his mental health journey. Credit Amarno Inai/Punch Records

Sandra Griffiths is the founder of Red Earth Collective, an organisation which promotes using the arts to explore mental health in marginalised and racialised communities.

Sandra and her team have worked alongside Punch and MandemMatter to create Katharsis.

“Amarno and myself had a shared understanding of the need for Katharsis,” she said.

“We wanted to create different opportunities for black men to express their mental health and talk about their journey.”

Sandra Griffiths

“We know young black men often find it difficult to talk about how they’re feeling,” Sandra said. “The arts can be a way of expressing your experiences through creativity, when words fail you.”

Amarno concluded: “I used art as a way of processing my emotions, and I want other black males to do the same, sharing their own stories in this way.”

For more information about Katharsis, and for tickets, click HERE.

For more information about mental health, visit https://www.mind.org.uk. In a mental health crisis, call Samaritans on 116 123 or call NHS 111.

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