ILLUSION OF PURITY is an artistic project founded by Gerrit in 2010 in Barcelona, Spain. The roots of the project go back further in time though. The project is heavily focused on the subject of life with psychological problems. The project at this moment consists of mainly speeching about life with autism, anxiety disorder and depression; and poetry which again is mainly focused on life within the autism spectrum, life with OCD, depression and other psychological conditions. Gerrit himself has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (a form of autism), OCD (which is an anxiety disorder) and has had depressions since childhood. The poetry consists of introspective and metaphore-filled outings of the emotions, fears, despairs, sadness but also hopes, dreams and normal emotions that most people within the spectrum go through. The project hopes to break the taboo about psychological problems and replace the many wrong stereotypes about psychological problems by a more correct picture of how it feels to live with neurodiversity. A smaller portion of the poetry within the project focusses more on political issues and problems and tendencies within (European) society.
Manifest of the project
We live in a society where, below the surface of what people generally see, are still a lot of problems. A lot of people still live a life full of struggles, get socially isolated, and have a low self-esteem due to being constant victims of being misunderstood or discriminated against. In a world where peer pressure and egocentrism often make people fail to notice those in need, rates of depression and suicide have been rising steadily. Something has to be done against this. The first step in order to improve facilities for those in need to improve their quality of life, is knowledge and awareness.
When it comes to psychological problems, people still don’t know a lot about what it truly means to live with a psychological condition. People know mainly a lot of stereotypes and cliches, which per definition don’t tell the complete truth or are just totally wrong. A lot of people don’t know beyond these stereotypes because of the taboo atmosphere surrounding psychological problems. People who have to live with it often experience peer pressure to be “normal” and hide their true self, which often leads to social isolation and low self-esteem. Facilities to offer help to improve life quality for those affected by psychological conditions, often can do not enough because there is insufficient resources and awareness thanks to the taboo. It is a vicious circle.
We want to use art and words; which are often the most powerful weapons; as a method to raise awareness about psychological problems. We don’t wish to entertain people with our artistic events, we wish to educate people. We want to counter the many wrong stereotypes in society and replace them by a more correct image of how it really feels to live with a psychological disorder. A lot of people only see the strange, introvert person but fail to see that below that surface is a normal person with normal emotions and desires. Few people look beyond what they see and know about the emotions people with a disorder go through: the daily struggle with the disorder, the many people who refuse to understand or help you, the pains and frustrations, the despairs and isolation… but also the normal desires for affection, the normal desires to chase their dreams, the normal dreams and emotions, the hopes we all have.
This project has a main target to raise awareness of how it really feels to live with a psychological disorder. We want to knock against the taboo walls with such a power until the bricks flow around and not a single fundament is left. This hopefully can pave the path for better understanding of psychological disorders and that in its turn hopefully leads to better facilities and help for those who need it most. The project also wishes to reach out to those who live with a psychological condition, tell them they are not alone with what they are going through and that they should be proud of who they are, no matter what.
Hence, the target of the project is diverse but easy to summarise: break the taboo and counter the wrong stereotypes about mental problems, with the hope it can lead to a better understanding and better life quality for those affected.
To live with a psychological disorder is not easy and sometimes painful. The project wishes to give an honest picture, which means that some poems and some parts of the speeching can be rather sombre. Please note that we are trying to create an honest picture, this includes it is important to show both sides of the coin: both the pains and despair; and the hopes and dreams. As many poems are highly metaphorical, Gerrit will always be happy to explain the specific message in the poem.
The project was formally started in Spain in 2010 but is not limited to any geographic place. We hope we can also contribute to raising awareness in societies and countries where the taboos are still the highest.
Gerrit was born in Ghent, Belgium in 1981. He lived a very reclusive youth by choice and has been coping with depressions since early childhood. His dreams of travelling the world and discover other cultures and far-off places provided the oxygen which was highly needed in the suffocating environment he grew up in. Gerrit has Asperger Syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other anxiety disorders on top of the depressions. He experienced first hand how it feels to grow up in a place where awareness of autism is minimal and in schools where he was constantly victim of bullying due to being the only autistic child in a “normal” environment. Rather than letting himself be beaten down by his condition, Gerrit drew motivation from it to stand up for better facilities for those who are also affected. This lead indirectly to the creation of the project. For a biography of Gerrit in detail, see his personal general website.
Gerrit realised his dreams of emigrating and wandering at age 22 when he relocated to Ireland. It was in Belfast that, on invitation from his psychologist, he gave a first speech about life with autism and OCD in front of psychology students and parents of autistic children. The overwhelmingly positive reactions to this speech further motivated Gerrit to continue the activism. It was also in Belfast he started to write his first poems, drawing inspiration from musicians such as Echo & the Bunnymen, Morrissey, The Smiths, … and of course heavily relying on his own experiences.
Gerrit’s experience in Turkey, where he lived for a while, further triggered the ambition to stand up for other people going through the same struggles. Gerrit experienced in Turkey the taboo about autism was sky-high, but the people were nonetheless not judging anyone different and helping even when they did not understand the full picture. This showed Gerrit that raising awareness was also badly needed outside of the western world and encouraged him to some day take his poetry and speeches to societies where the taboo is still very big, such as the Middle East or Africa.
Gerrit continued to write poems in Germany and the Czech Republic. An article encouraging autistics to be proud of themselves and believe in their dreams, was published in translated form in an e-zine ruled by a local autism organisation.
Gerrit moved to Spain in 2009 partially because of the lack of artistic opportunities in the country he resided before. At the same time of this relocation, Gerrit was exposed to the music of The God Machine and Sophia (both bands fronted by Robin Proper-Sheppard) which left a huge impression on Gerrit. Especially in songs such as “So slow”; “Purity”, the highly claustrophobic “Out”, “The Flower Song” and “Portugal”, Gerrit recognised his own emotions very well and realised the huge impact art can have to reach out to people. It motivated him to not only start writing poetry on a much higher frequency than ever before, but to also take the leap to perform his poems in public. After about half a year of frequent appearances in the local poetry open mike nights, Gerrit’s conceptual poetry is now ready to be performed in own shows that are completely constructed around the poems dealing with psychological problems and to lesser extent, political issues.
His dream is to take the project abroad and perform in as many different locations and countries, including those countries where the taboo is still the biggest. The project consists of Gerrit as only permanent contributor but has from time to time accepted guest contributions by other artists. The project will likely continue in the same way, where guest contributions are allowed without accepting permanent membership of the project, and with collaborations with other projects that are about psychological problems.