Photos by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

Mental illness touches everyone. For artist Ahmed Elfatih, intimate memories of his own life created the foundations for his art. From Sept. 7 to 16, Elfatih’s art pieces took over the walls of the Hamilton Audio Visual Node (HAVN) on 26 Barton Street East for “Mixed Matter”. This unique exhibit displayed Elfatih’s struggles leading up to his immigration from Omdurman, Sudan to Hamilton, Ontario. With a focus on his personal experiences with mental illness, each of his paintings tell a different memory from his life.

“These paintings are actual events; actual things that happened to me,” said Elfatih.

Elfatih’s mother was one of the main reasons why Elfatih was able to come to Canada. For five years, she worked to bring her family to this new country. Suitingly, all of Elfatih’s paintings are dedicated to his mother. 

Elfatih started making art as early as six years old when his sister began teaching him how to draw characters such as Mickey Mouse. With the support of his dad, Elfatih eventually picked up art as a way to cope with his mood swings.

“When I’m happy, I paint. When I’m sad, I paint. It’s actually a healing method for me,” said Elfatih.

“Mixed Matter” is an art show that highlights all the struggles Elfatih faced in the process of coming to Hamilton. Elfatih noted that most of his difficulties in Omdurman revolved around managing mental illness. He continues to paint because he hopes to start a cause or campaign to use art and music to heal. Art is how he kept his happiness and energy.

Elfatih’s compositions contain unique figures and scenery that may not make sense to the mind at first. But that’s a lot like what feelings look like – sometimes when you try to depict them, they just don’t make sense. They are beautiful, chaotic and tragic in their own ways.

Feelings are exactly what Elfatih wants people to get from his exhibit. He wants his art to touch the human mind and heart; to see if others can relate to his work. 

“I feel comfort when I find out that other people also go through those issues. What I’m trying to get is feelings. I want people to [leave the exhibit] with experience … That was what I was aiming for,” Elfatih remarked.

Elfatih notes that “Bell’s Curse” is one of his favourite pieces he’s done. “Bell’s Curse” depicts Elfatih in front of a patterned royal purple background. On the right side of his face, his features seem normal; if not a bit down-turned. On the left, his features blossom in different directions; almost as if they are sprouting out of his face and growing in their own way. 

What could be the story behind this painting? Recently, Elfatih was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles. As a child, this was something he had experienced temporarily.. Four months ago; however, it stayed. Elfatih says that the painting represents him. What he takes from this painting is that flaws are beautiful and that you should be proud of them.

“God hand picks you to have [flaws] … especially if it’s visual, it’s like hey, I’m gonna put this little gift on you; this pearl on you,” he said.

As you go through the exhibit, you can see both the hurt and the healing that Elfatih has gone through. This is evident  in each individual brushstroke, caption and story that his paintings retell. 

Mental and physical illnesses are difficult. His paintings depict that clearly. But sometimes, some good can come from the pain and struggle.


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