Through a series of participant-led art workshops, Reading researchers are raising important questions about how we understand and talk about self-injury.

Seventeenth-century representations of self-injury in literature and art suggest that modern attitudes towards what is now considered a pathological behaviour are very different from those of the early modern period.

By encouraging exploration and discussion of how the motivations, representations, and social attitudes surrounding self-injury have changed throughout history, a project led by Dr Alanna Skuse is informing new models of patient engagement with at-risk groups.

In collaboration with Associate Professor Tina O’Connell who runs Reading’s ArtLab, Skuse devised a series of ​​workshops to bring together co-researchers from different academic backgrounds, cultures, and age groups, all of whom had a professional interest in – or lived experience of – self-injury.

Skuse and O’Connell worked with psychiatry professionals to create an atmosphere of trust during the workshops, facilitating open discussion between participants as they reflected on their personal experiences of self-injury through a range of artistic and creative techniques from clay modelling to digital animation.

The findings from the project are being used as the basis for a new academic monograph by Dr Skuse, while the artworks created during the workshops are being displayed as part of a digital exhibition to demonstrate how art-led, humanities-informed models can be used to discuss and destigmatise self-injury in both clinical and community settings.

“Really enjoyed the workshops. They were challenging in a positive way, and a space was created in which it was possible to be vulnerable. Having the art as an outlet helped facilitate this. Thank you for getting me involved!” Workshop participant

Judges’ comment

“A very creative project with real strengths in cross-disciplinary working that combines artistic practice and historical context to address an important issue in innovative ways.

Team: Alanna Skuse and Tina O’Connell

In partnership with The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

Funded by Wellcome Trust

Shortlisted for the University Research Engagement and Impact Awards 2022 (winner)

First published: June 2022