Durham is due to stage the world’s first exhibition on the topic of hearing voices. The exhibition, which will be held in the Palace Green Library from 5th November 2016 to 26th February 2017, will challenge the commonly held view that hearing voices is always a symptom of mental illness.
Hearing voices, or auditory hallucinations, seems to have been experienced by a number of well-known people, including writers such as Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Allen Ginsberg and William Blake, as well as saints and mystics in a number of religious traditions.
Dickens wrote of how he ‘saw’ rather than invented his stories. Dickens’s friends recalled him saying that he heard his characters speak and that they were with him when he was writing.
The free exhibition, entitled Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration and the everyday, will examine auditory hallucinations from different cultural, clinical, historical, literary and spiritual perspectives.
Hearing Voices will feature voice hearers’ testimonies from across the world, as well as records of different types of voice-hearing experiences, from childhood imaginary friends to voices heard by people suffering bereavement.
It is estimated that between 5 and 15% of adults will have voice-hearing experiences at some stage of their lives.
Rachel Waddingham, the chair of Intervoice, an international network for people who hear voices, said, “Whilst hearing voices is a relatively common human experience, many voice-hearers live their lives feeling afraid to speak out in case they are discriminated against.”
“This exhibition invites us to step beyond the stereotypes and explore the multi-faceted experience of voice hearing. It celebrates our diversity and helps send a message that it’s OK to hear voices – and we can talk about it. If I had heard this, as a young person who heard voices, it might have changed my life.”
The exhibition will showcase material spanning several centuries including rare manuscripts, religious objects, art installations and interactive displays. The exhibition will examine the divine voices heard by medieval mystics, the links between voice hearing and literary talent, and the inspirational stories of members of the international Hearing Voices Movement.
Highlights will include the only surviving text of the female Christian mystic Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, some of Virginia Woolf’s manuscripts loaned by the British Library, and artworks produced by youngsters from Bradford, Leeds and Durham who have experienced auditory hallucinations.
Hearing Voices will be open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, and on Monday from noon till 5 pm.
The exhibition will commence on November 5th with an international symposium exploring issues such as treatment for distressing voices and the delivery of mental health services. A programme of public lectures, films and performances will take place across Durham City during the time the exhibition is on. Full details are available at www.hearingvoicesdu.org