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Haqiem Rusli & Depression in Art: Expression & exploitation (OPINION)
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Haqiem Rusli & Depression in Art: Expression & exploitation (OPINION)

by Jane-Menn CheongJuly 9, 2018

The boy who cried depression — or did he? After receiving backlash for allegedly using depression as a publicity tool – does it matter if Haqiem Rusli was not faking his depression? What is the difference between expression and exploitation?

The Haqiem Rusli story

Ridzuan Haqiem Rusli, or more known as Haqiem Rusli, recently released a statement saying that he would be going on hiatus due to

Haqiem Rusli (Source: Remaja)

Haqiem Rusli (Source: Remaja)

depression. This obviously shocked the fans of the 20-year old singer and concerned many of his peers in the industry. However, during a radio interview with Hot FM, he clarified that he may have mistook stress for depression. “Depress tu maybe saya salah cakap…”, Haqiem said. The radio interview was not only held with the intention to clarify his statement but to promote his new single “Selamat Tinggal Sayang”.

This outraged singers, Wany Hasrita and Ernie Zakri, who were also present during the interview.

According to both the personalities, they were not aware of why they had been called into the studio. Upon finding out that they were there to help promote Haqiem’s single through the pretense that he had mental illness, they did not have it. The two took to social media to voice how they felt about the situation. Both expressed how the interview was a waste of their time and how they were displeased at Haqiem for using depression as a gimmick to promote his music.

This outraged singers, Wany Hasrita and Ernie Zakri, who were also present during the interview.

According to both the personalities, they were not aware of why they had been called into the studio. Upon finding out that they were there to help promote Haqiem’s single through the pretense that he had mental illness, they did not have it. The two took to social media to voice how they felt about the situation. Both expressed how the interview was a waste of their time and how they were displeased at Haqiem for using depression as a gimmick to promote his music.

In a press conference held recently, Haqiem shared that he was not lying about his depression and that the stress did contribute to him feeling mildly depressed at times. He went on to say that his statement about depression was not a publicity stunt to promote his single and that he will seek help very soon.

Whether or not Haqiem is telling the truth, we will probably never know.

This incident however, brings to light how mental illness is exploited in art forms for publicity. There is a difference between expressing your emotions through your art and using it as a publicity tool. Gaining public attention by making a statement about mental illness is in no way right. Some artists may get away with it, but this gives a bad name to those who actually use their art to express how they feel. Often, we hear artists using their depression to fuel their creativity which is not wrong at all. This allows their audience to empathise with their struggles and better understand what they are going through. People who are struggling with mental health issues themselves would also feel less alone. Although there are of course instances when the romanticisation of an artist’s mental health can have an adverse effect on society’s perception towards it – mistaking mental illnesses as just ‘a stroke of weird genius’.  This wanton romanticisation is the source of people’s misunderstanding that creativity must only come from suffering. That being said a person who harbour such conditions have every right to portray it to the world – it is our duty to talk about mental health with information and empathy.

Depression as expression

Copy by Emile Schuffenecker of Van Gogh’s self-portrait with bandaged ear – taken from: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/125-questions/questions-and-answers/question-13-of-125

Copy by Emile Schuffenecker of Van Gogh’s self-portrait with bandaged ear – taken from: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/125-questions/questions-and-answers/question-13-of-125

A well-known example of this is Vincent van Gogh who suffered a series of mental disorders which includes, bi-polar disorder and depression. He had admitted himself into a mental asylum and experienced manic episodes in which he cut off his whole ear. He also wrote a series of letters to his brother that describe his depressive state. According to Rustin (2008) art pieces that have documented his depression and manic episodes include, “Cemetery in the rain”, “Cypresses” and “Poppies with burtterflies”.

Another famous visual artist whose work is adored by the masses, is Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Known for her use of polka dots and whimsical art installations, the contemporary artist often showcases her hallucinations through her art. When speaking about her 1954 painting, ‘Flower’ (D.S.P.S), the artist describes vividly how she saw the room covered from floor to ceiling with flowers after observing a patterned tablecloth.

“One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows, and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers. I ran desperately up the stairs. The steps below me began to fall apart and I fell down the stairs straining my ankle.” – Yayoi Kusama (Zac Bayly, 2012)

In 1977, three years after returning to Japan, she admitted herself into Seiwa Hospital in which she lives in to this day. She continues to make art in her studio near the hospital. Kusama has used art to remedy her mental health, stating in a 2007 interview with ‘art Review’, that “If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.”

Source: http://www.asahicom.jp/ajw/articles/images/AS20180404002960_comm.jpg

Source: http://www.asahicom.jp/ajw/articles/images/AS20180404002960_comm.jpg

Though faking a mental health issue to promote one’s art seems pretty ‘harmless’, it does affect society’s gaze on mental health as a whole. As it stands, mental health is something that isn’t taken very seriously. People who don’t have to face the struggles of mental illnesses often perceive mental health as something that isn’t real. They often think people with depression are lazy or that some are just seeking attention. Hence, using mental health to gain attraction will further worsen the stigma society already has against it. On top of that, people who are going through mental health problems may feel a lack of validation for how they feel. This can discourage them from seeking help due to a fear of judgement.

So, how can we help?

Spreading awareness about mental health is definitely something that can help with making people realise that these issues are real. However, it is hard to make all of society emphatise with one’s condition especially if they have never gone through it themselves. Simple acts like being there for a friend or checking up on people you know who are struggling with can help. Sometimes lending an ear is more than enough.

People with depression or anxiety often keep things bottled inside, and it is important for us to make the initiative to check on them from time to time. This reminds them that they are loved and that we care. Being a support system to those around us can help make them feel a little better. They may even feel more comfortable with seeking professional help. Though, it is important to keep in mind that taking care of the people around us can take a toll on ourselves as well. So, it is important to know when to take time for yourself.

The usage of depression as a gimmick to sell music is heinous. It trivializes a condition a lot of people in society still have problems understanding. But maybe Haqiem’s misunderstanding  is just a symptom of how terribly uneducated we are when it comes to depression – especially in the world of entertainment.


If you need help, please contact Befrienders Malaysia via:
https://www.befrienders.org.my/
or contact: +603-79568145

Featured image source: Remaja MY

About The Author
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Jane-Menn Cheong
Ratchet pharmacist and local fashion slut

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