Issa Ibrahim: The Hospital Always Wins


9 Cruel Nails, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 inches

While diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia and committed to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, medicine and art became the catalyst for Issa Ibrahim to free his mind from the dark confines of mental illness.

Ibrahim references art historical narratives, comic book icons, and popular culture figures in his paintings to show the struggle as well as the victory over his mental illness. These paintings are an introspective self analysis into the fight for peace and clarity within a tortured mind. In a sequence of self-portraits titled 9 Cruel Nails (2009), which recall the composition of DaVinci’s Mona-Lisa, Ibrahim strips away the confines of his mental illness and reveals himself as renewed.


Ali vs. Sam, 2014, acrylic on canvas

While largely autobiographical, Ibrahim also uses his art as commentary on socio-
political themes. In light of the recent death of Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Ibrahim’s Ali vs. Sam is a touching tribute to Ali’s prowess as a champion both inside the ring and for civil rights. Ali, depicted as Superman has K.O’d a lanky Uncle Sam, a reference to Ali’s refusal to support the Vietnam War.

Ibrahim’s paintings are currently on view at Local Project Art Space in the exhibition The Hospital Always Wins, curated by Martha Henry. The exhibition coincides with a memoir Ibrahim wrote to detail his experiences with mental illness and the psychiatric hospital system in America. While, progress has certainly been made in identifying an treating mental health, there are huge gaps in both treatment and in the general conception about mental illness. Ibrahim is one of the fortunate individuals who’ve learned to overcome mental illness through a combination of taking proper medication and engaging in the creative process of making art and music.

The exhibition is on view thru June 18, 2016.

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