Photo by George Georgiou
“Between 1999 and 2002, I visited three psychiatric institutions while living and working in Kosova and Serbia on a long term project, Between The Lines, on the aftermath of the NATO conflict with Serbia. The work from the institutions, a story on it’s own, is also an integral part of this bigger narrative of conflict, division, difference and exclusion.
Having spent four years teaching a photography class to people with psychiatric disorders in London prior to this, psychiatric institutions and patients were not alien to me and I was aware of the fluctuating behavioural patterns. What I found in Kosova and Serbia was a far cry form contemporary practice in London.When I first visited the institutions they were hidden from the gaze of the general public and came as a shock to Serbs when they were exposed. Money, during the years of the Milosevic regime had drained away, leaving filthy conditions, contagious diseases, lack of medical care and rehabilitation and a failure to provide oversight due to an unmotivated low paid staff struggling with their own economic difficulties.The worst aspect was the total lack of care and stimulation and the high number of people who should never have been in these places. People with physical disabilities, (the boy with no legs was a victim of a car accident and orphaned), downs syndrome, a high proportion of Roma or children whose misfortune was to have been born in the institutions. By living in this environment of deprivation, with little stimulation or compassion they start to display repetitive rocking behaviour and self-injury.
By 2002, on my final visits, money had been raised in a public campaign of awareness in Serbia and with the help of a number of NGO’s conditions had improved. For me, after the initial shock at the conditions and total lack of care, it became clear that the patients from all ethnic backgrounds were able to display more community, affection and care with each other, than the sad situation that their “sane” countrymen were displaying to each other on the outside.”