Grate Again (2016). Issa Ibrahim. Photo courtesy of the artist.
In 2016 I was riding high. Seven years since my release from almost two decades institutionalized in a mental asylum, I had literary and artistic representation and all the seeds I’d planted for years as a zombie, dreaming, hoping, planning grew to become fruitful appraisals of my artistic talents in relationship to my story, my ordeal, my triumph, and my late beloved mom. I mounted a solo show retrospective of my art from Hell, became a published author, and traveled the world, with permission from the authorities, as under my discharge conditions I am forbidden to leave the State of New York. My long-time love and I had just moved into a large apartment together and solidified our domestic bliss by adopting two crazy but adorable rescued cats. I was stable, productive and happy. All was right in my world.
As a visual artist and student of history with a social consciousness and a lifelong interest in media, it’s a no-brainer that I keep a close eye on the news. In truth, much to my gal’s chagrin, I have it on all the time. So, when watching went from nightly dispatches to 24/7 obsession as Donald Trump launched his improbable yet unstoppable march on Washington and dismantling of democracy I was so depressed, disturbed, and distraught I began to unravel. As a Black man from Trump’s home borough who knew for decades how toxic and unacceptable this man was I realized we had hit a new all-time low. All bets were off, America. It may have been foolish for me to not take my oral meds as prescribed, but I was scared and angry and saw no other alternative but rebellion to cope with what I saw as the South making good on their century old promise of rising again and the American Nazi/Ku Klux Klan faction moving into the White House.
World War 666 (2017). Issa Ibrahim. Acrylic and oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.
With each ‘Breaking News’ announcement of positive polls, primary triumphs, debate insanity, and eventual ascendancy and power control I spiraled further and further down. Ultimately, by autumn 2017 my mania overrode the injectable meds that I was required to take and within a year I went from loose to unmanageable, needing to be re-hospitalized. But for a Drug Nut Zombie, especially one who finally escaped legally and then had the nerve to write a book about it, coming back to Hell could be grounds for reclassification from undead to really dead and then cremation, my ashes sitting like a souvenir on some psychiatrist’s bookshelf. I was deep in the dung under Satan’s hoof, and I was scared. My freedom and my home with my love and the cats were in jeopardy.
While on Ward’s Island, Manhattan’s auxiliary Hell outpost, I prayed every day for deliverance…for me, for my love, for our two cats. Somehow He heard me…again. And He saved me from another long stretch in the Hell of an asylum. Not enough thanks can be given to Holly Weiss and a small band of Fountain House outreach volunteers who ventured weekly inside Manhattan Psychiatric Center looking for inpatients willing to join the clubhouse if and when we were given our freedom. That is where my renewed recovery journey and true salvation began.
Issa Ibrahim finds meaning and purpose as an artist, musician, writer, filmmaker, activist, 25-year artist-in-residence at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s Living Museum, and now as an artist of Fountain House Gallery. “Knocking down the icon” has been a major theme since his teen years, influenced in the late 1970s by punk rock. Anarchic takes on comic strip themes stay with Issa and resonate, lending him the capacity to merge the lowbrow with the erudite, the truth behind the fairy tale – what he calls “a fun house reflection of a bankrupt culture.” Issa is the author of the 2016 memoir The Hospital Always Wins. He has been featured on German public television, in an HBO documentary, and in an Edward R. Murrow and Third Coast award-winning NPR audio story. By creating “what if” scenarios, and infusing loving homage and nostalgic longing with harsh realities and biting satire, Issa wishes to express something honest and meaningful about contemporary society and the world we live in.