Updated: Nov 7
written by Alba Huang | date: 11 October, 2023
My initial perception of the Bethlem Museum differed significantly from my preconceived notions. Enveloped in lush greenery, the museum grounds resembled a tranquil manor, with pigeons and magpies flitting about, and the air heavy with morning dew. It struck me as a place one might find solace, perhaps even a nursing home. As it turned out, my intuition was correct; the museum was just a fragment of the vast Bethlem Asylum. At the project's onset, our team leader emphasized our mission: to treat the 19th-century patients not as mental patients, but as ordinary individuals. It was an easy concept to grasp intellectually, yet when I pored over their files, the enormity of the task became painfully apparent. Save for a handful, most patients bore faces marked by anguish, eyes dulled by despair, or movements riddled with panic. How could we ensure visitors didn’t perceive their 'otherness'? I found myself deeply admiring Dr. Morrison for conceiving the ingenious idea of using mirrors to transport us back to that era in the 21st century. Mental illness, even today, remains a challenge to treat comprehensively. However, our contemporary society boasts advanced medical knowledge and more compassionate attitudes. Two centuries ago, during the era of industrial revolution, where self-care took a backseat to survival, what fate befell these 'others'? In Eastern philosophy, present suffering sows the seeds for future bliss, while in Western constellation, current hardships echo unresolved karma from past lives. I earnestly wish that these marginalized souls of the 19th century may, in the next life, find the peace and tranquility that eluded them during their time on Earth.