A few years ago I came across manuscripts written by a forgotten, trilingual writer Sophie Gaudier-Brzeska (1872-1925), who died in a mental asylum in Gloucester. They depict a woman’s struggle with mental illness and societal conventions. I was struck by her strong voice and unconventional prose but even more so by her life. Sophie not only struggled with her relationship with her mother who refused to educate her and wanted to marry her off as soon as possible. She also was faced with the bankruptcy of the family estate, her father’s sudden death, bouts of severe depressions, forced migration from Central Europe to the West (France, US and UK), struggles with finding employment, suicide attempts. Finally, she was hit by the biggest of blows: the death of her partner Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, French modernist sculptor, eighteen years her junior, during the First World War, followed by her own incarceration in a mental hospital.
Alluding to the ancient definition of melancholy (black bile) and Western association of black colour with mourning and death, I tell her story through black and white images. By borrowing the title for this series from Sophie’s unpublished and highly autobiographical novel 'Hysterical Women', I wanted to directly connect with her and expand on the novel’s theme of the limits of human endurance. How much can we bear before we begin to fall apart? When does madness start to claim us?