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Beautiful Distress was founded on the concept that there is a great deal of mental suffering, that not enough people are aware of this and that not enough is done to stop it.

The Foundation uses art in an attempt to open up the world of psychiatry and battle the stigma attached to it.

Why art? Beautiful Distress believes that art is pre-eminently capable of articulating and depicting the human condition




Filtering by Category: English

Mission Nose Out

Stichting Beautiful Distress

A group of students from the Rietveld Academy and a group of New Amsterdamers artists (refugees with residence permit) went in couples on a voyage of discovery, through new experiences and places they have never been to before. They will share the results of this experience, ideas they've exchanged, and artworks they've made. The variety of cultural backgrounds played a decisive role in this project. Both, the New Amsterdamers and the students come from countries from all around the world.

The couples have worked on joint or separate works that formed a combination, a dialogue, or an encounter between them, Photography students at the Academy and their multidisciplinary art mates.

Art is the connecting factor.
A project supported by the municipality of Amsterdam and the Rietveld Academy. 


Mazen Al Ashkar, Dora Lionstone, Nazar Haji, Luca Penning, Yara Said, Alizé Wachto, Marwa Mezher, Tomás Feijo, Roua Jaafar, Aurelié Sorriaux, Mohammed Hassan, Ju An Hsieh, Raafat Ballan, Sofie Bredholt, Shreya Desouza, Marta Capilla, Alma Kim, Muhanad Rasheed

A project set up by Essam Zaki, Hanne Hagenaars, and Vincent Zedelius

THURSDAY, 21 JUNE, 2018, 16.00 HRS

Beautiful Distress Huis  Ms. van Riemsdijkweg 41A, 1033 RC Amsterdam

21 June - 1 July 12:00 - 18:00

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Carlos Rodriguez-Perez Honored For Art in Mental Wellness Program

Stichting Beautiful Distress

Carlos Rodriguez-Perez, MA, LCAT, RDT/BCT, director of wellness and recovery at NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County, has been honored by the organization No Longer Empty for his steadfast commitment to the community through art intervention. The body of work for which Mr. Rodriguez-Perez was honored—at the No Longer Empty’s annual Future Perfect Ball, held April 10—includes his oversight of the hospital’s Artist-In-Residence Program, which engages artists as studio residents within the hospital. Among the program’s goals, it aims to reduce the stigma associated with youth suffering from mental illness.

The Artist-in-Residence Program takes the innovative approach of exploring mental illness through creative arts and incorporating art interventions to impact health care outcomes. At NYC Health + Hospitals/King County, Mr. Rodriguez-Perez built one of the largest teams of creative arts therapists found anywhere in a single institution as part of redeveloping the group behavioral health programming for inpatient services.

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SEE OVERLEAF - opening April 6

Stichting Beautiful Distress

SEE OVERLEAF is a research project of students and alumni of the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Utrecht and Vivian Bax from the MA St. Joost in Den Bosch. At the invitation of Het Vijfde Seizoen, the artists worked in the residency at the psychiatric institution Willem Arntsz Hoeve. Inspired by this unique place and in collaboration with patients from the institution, they made new work.

Opening April 6, 17.00-19.00

7 April to 13 May, Thursday to Sunday 12.00-18.00
Beautiful Distress project space
Ms. van Riemsdijkweg 41 - Amsterdam-North

Airy, tender, evasive, scanning, spontaneous, negative, improvising: SEE OVERLEAF shows how art can relate to psychiatry from different perspectives. For example, Nuni Weisz created musical instruments that allow you to listen to the mood of others and researched Vivian Bax methods to channel anger. Koen Kloosterhuis made a more than life-size ear and wrote a surreal story inspired by the experience of one of the patients with whom he attracted a lot.

The exhibition is opened by Frank Koolen, head of Fine Art HKU and Anno Dijkstra, lecturer HKU. Furthermore, an interactive performance by Anita Horvȧth takes place.

Beautiful Distress Kunstmanifestatie was a great success! That is why Het Vijfde Seizoen and Beautiful Distress will continue to work together in the new project space: Beautiful Distress in Amsterdam-Noord (between Sexy Land and New Dakota)

[this post was machine translated]

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Writer and artist Jan Hoek succeeds Mirthe Berentsen in our residency in NY.

Stichting Beautiful Distress

Jan Hoek (1984) is an artist and a writer. In his work he is always attracted to the beauty of outsiders worldwide and always keen to collaborate intensively with people that normally are overlooked to create a new image together. He photographed a Amsterdam based ex heroine addict who always dreamed of being a super model, he collaborated with a group of trans sex workers in Cape Town who roam the streets in the most stunning self-created outfits, created psychedelic zines about the sex tourist capital of the world Pattaya in Thailand, and made a series about the Maasai who not identify with their jumping stereotype image, and sometimes he finds his models just on the internet. In the universe of Hoek the 'normal' people are the strangers and the outsiders are the funky rulers of this planet.


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Relay Column 4 - Mad Matters

Stichting Beautiful Distress

One of the objectives of Beautiful Distress is to fight stigma. Therefore we regularly publish a column about stigma on our site. Read the new column by Grietje Keller.

Grietje Keller works at the The Public Health Service of Amsterdam (GGD Amsterdam) and chairs Reading groups in Mad Studies with the Perceval Foundation.  


Organizations that combat stigmas would rather counteract (self) stigmatization. Personally I have come to the conclusion that the problem is not the stigma, but the psychiatric diagnosis itself. I therefore prefer concentrating on the discussion of the medical rational in psychiatry, rather than combating the stigma.

Some people who had ever had a psychiatric diagnosis come, sometimes years later, to the conclusion that making that diagnosis was totally irrelevant for finding a solution to their problems. Indeed it just made their problems bigger. This is a curious phenomenon. Mad Studies have given me the words and concepts to understand how that is possible.

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This Artist Residency in a Hospital Is Helping Combat Mental Health Stigma

Stichting Beautiful Distress

This Artist Residency in a Hospital Is Helping Combat Mental Health Stigma



SEP 27TH, 2017 5:11 PM

  • Marijn Ottenhof's studio at King's County Hospital. Photo by Marijn Ottenhof. Courtesy of Marijn Ottenhof.

Dutch artist Marijn Ottenhof wasn’t expecting to spend her summer in a mental health hospital. But when Fleur Kuypers invited her to participate in Beautiful Distress, a residency located within the Behavioral Health Center at Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital, she immediately accepted.

Just weeks after Kuypers extended the invitation, Ottenhof quit her job in Amsterdam and settled into a room located in a mostly empty tower on the hospital’s campus in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her spare quarters were just a short walk from the R-Building, where patients are treated for mental illnesses ranging from depression to schizophrenia to substance addiction. There, she would spend three months living, working, and interacting with the hospital’s mental health patients.

Ottenhof doesn’t have a background in psychiatry, but she is interested in human behavior—“what we perceive as normal behavior, as abnormal, or what is unsettling to us,” she told me over coffee in her temporary Kings County studio last month. Her performance-based practice often explores how humans relate to each other and their surroundings. She hoped an extended stay at Kings County would deepen her understanding of the social barriers that can make us feel alienated or powerless.

Ottenhof is one of eight artists to have undertaken the Beautiful Distress residency since its launch in 2014, when Kuypers and Wilco Tuinebreijer, a psychiatrist, founded it on the basis that “there is a great deal of mental suffering, that not enough people are aware of this, and that too little is done to offer relief,” as its mission statement reads.

The duo sees art as a tool that can tackle these issues by raising awareness and cultivating empathy around a subject that’s heavily stigmatized.

  • Sketch made by Marijn Ottenhof during the Beautiful Distress residency at King's County Hospital. Photo by Marijn Ottenhof. Courtesy of Marijn Ottenhof.

According to a recent report from the World Health Organization, depression is now the most prevalent illness worldwide, affecting more people than either cancer or heart disease. What’s more, one in four people will face psychiatric illness at least once in their life. Despite the ubiquity of mental illness, however, “it’s not surrounded by the same kind of acceptance and solidarity as other widespread diseases like cancer are,” Kuypers explains over Skype, sitting next to Tuinebreijer in Amsterdam.

“Mental health patients are often discriminated against, and excluded from society,” Tuinebreijer adds. “We believe artists have the ability, through their work, to communicate the difficulties that patients face in a different, more positive light.”

Tuinebreijer’s interest in the intersection of art and mental health goes back many years, to when he was a child dreaming about a future as either a psychiatrist or an artist. “I decided to become a psychiatrist because it pays the bills,” he chuckles. But his interest in art never waned, and he baked it into his psychiatric practice. “As Fleur says, one image can say more than 1,000 words,” he notes. “Sometimes I send patients to an exhibition or give them a DVD, because the therapy is not reaching them in the way that art can.”

It wasn’t until some 20 years ago, however, that he became involved with what is believed to be the world’s first art residency program within a psychiatric hospital. Called Fifth Season, it was introduced at the Altrecht Mental Health Institute, a clinic located in the region of Utrecht in the Netherlands in 1998.

Three years ago, Tuinebreijer and Kuypers took it upon themselves to expand the concept internationally after Tuinebreijer gave a lecture at Kings County. The visit jump-started a conversation with Dr. Joseph Merlino, formerly Director of Psychiatry and Deputy Executive Director at the hospital, about setting up a similar residency program there. While Merlino was supportive (“he is also very interested in the arts and psychiatry, and the emancipation of patients,” says Tuinebreijer), the hospital’s board of directors wasn’t so easily convinced.

“It was very difficult to convince them that the project was interesting, positive, and not risky for the hospital,” Tuinebreijer explains. Among the board’s initial concerns were that the program could disrupt daily procedures, breach rules around patient privacy, and damage the hospital legally in some way.

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

This cautiousness wasn’t surprising: When the discussions began, the hospital was still battling negative press related to the 2008 death of a patient in the psychiatric emergency waiting room. The hospital, one of few mental health providers for Brooklyn’s poor population, was promptly investigated for neglect. The tragedy stimulated sweeping reforms—and greater discretion—across the hospital, especially in its Behavioral Health Center.

Beyond logistical and legal concerns, however, Tuinebreijer notes that the hospital also wanted to safeguard against patient exploitation by outsiders: in this case, artists. “The staff is protective of patients, because they are also sensitive to how excluded and discriminated against they are,” he explains.

Tuinebreijer and Kuypers had already designed the Beautiful Distress program to ensure that residents would be respectful of patients—both in interactions within the hospital, and in artistic responses to those experiences. They proposed that artists be selected for the quality of their work and its sensitivity to social issues. Artists would also be required to sign a document agreeing to respect patients’ privacy.

By 2015, Tuinebreijer and Kuypers, with support from Merlino, convinced the board to bring Beautiful Distress to the hospital. Annaleen Louwes, a well-known photographer, would kick off the residency. During the time she spent at Kings County, she observed group therapy sessions—or at least, those in which all patients felt comfortable with her presence—and took portraits of those who offered to sit for her.

The resulting series, “Black and white and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy,” coalesces images of patients—some staring straight at the camera, others lying in bed—with shots of hospital details like houseplants, blue plastic chairs, and doctor’s gloves.

Kuypers remembers the hospital staff recounting a particularly memorable experience from Louwes’s stay. “No one had been able to reach one patient: not the doctors, not the nurses, not the art therapist…nobody,” she recalls. “But Annaleen had been able to open him up. It impressed them.”

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

When I ask what it was about Louwes and her work that the patient connected with, Kuypers speculated: “She asked him if she could take his photo. I think the fact that someone was interested enough to take his photo was a factor,” she says. “Also the fact that she is not part of the system—just another person—probably helped, too.”

After the hospital’s positive reaction to Louwes, Beautiful Distress invited more residents. The program is now three years old, and Ottenhof is its eighth resident.

Like all Beautiful Distress artists, Ottenhof was provided an apartment and studio in the hospital, and access to group therapy sessions attended by mental health patients for a span of three months. Artists are not required to engage with patients directly while there—Ottenhof recalls hearing about one resident who spent his time shooting the abandoned nether regions of the hospital at night for a film project—but Ottenhof, like Louwes, chose to interact.  

She spent most of her days observing the group sessions, which ranged in focus from drama therapy and journaling to discussing coping mechanisms and medication management. Over time, her focus became issues surrounding anxiety. “I thought it would be an interesting emotion to focus on, in light of what’s going on in the world,” she says. “Anxiety affects so many of us, but it’s such an intangible emotion—so I thought, ‘How can I make it more visible?’”

Ottenhof interviewed several patients about their anxieties, and gave them a ball of blue clay to play with or use like a stress ball while speaking to her. The resulting bits of matter bear deep fingerprints and dents where palms pressed hard into the soft clay. One patient rolled the material into a long strand, then twisted it into a looping, tightly wound knot. These vestiges of the conversations are an “imprint of that intangible feeling,” says Ottenhof, “a clot of condensed emotion.”

These clots, and the many issues that mental health patients face, are what Kuypers and Tuinebreijer hope to bring to light, and simultaneously destigmatize, through Beautiful Distress and its participating artists. Right now, they are in the process of establishing two additional Beautiful Distress residencies at hospitals in Belgium and Japan.

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Annaleen Louwes, Black and White and (some) kind of blue or I only want to be happy. © Annaleen Louwes. Courtesy of the artist.

This December, they will hold a large-scale conference in Amsterdam, titled “Beautiful Distress Conference on art, mental health and stigma,” where psychiatrists, doctors, policy-makers, artists, and patients from around the world will discuss “how we can open up society to fight stigma around mental illness—and how we can find new solutions in how we can work with each other, live together, and make a better world,” says Kuypers.

While Kuypers and Tuinebreijer’s objectives are lofty, their passionate belief in art’s power to heal continually drives them toward their goals. “We’ve been working for years now with this question: Why art and psychiatry?” she continues. “And a quote from Gerhard Richter—‘Art is the highest form of hope’—always comes to mind when I consider it. Art, after all, has the power to make mental suffering visible and visceral.”

—Alexxa Gotthardt

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Stichting Beautiful Distress

One of the objectives of Beautiful Distress is to fight stigma. Therefore, from now on, we will publish a regular column about stigma on our site. Read the second contribution by Vos Beerthuis, psychiatrist in Amsterdam. You can find the first column by Wilco Tuinebreijer here


‘Have you ever met a normal person? And, liked it? ‘This slogan could be seen in the Netherlands in the seventies. It hasn’t lost its poignancy. Almost all of us have a screw loose. And this makes us interesting. That is, theoretically. Because in reality we don’t readily admit if there is something wrong mentally. Nowadays we are allowed to speak out on most physical illnesses. But a mental disorder is a different story. Doctors first started to describe psychiatric impediments in specialist literature. Next to come were novels, plays and movies, and peers started to share their experiences. In the past decades we saw ego documents: patients, who described their illnesses, told their stories in books and on television. But still it is quiet rare for a patient to tell the story of his or her malady in public. On Facebook I recently read the story of a student who had been diagnosed with a panic disorder.  He had to overcome a lot to dare to ask if someone else was having the same disorder.  Shame, ignorance and lack of understanding still lead to patients suffering in loneliness.

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Yasmijn Karhof

Maarten Van Overeem

Yasmijn Karhof will be part of an artist in residence program at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn from October 2016 until January 2017. The program is an initiative of Beautiful Distress, a Foundation that uses art in an attempt to open up the world of psychiatry and battle the stigma attached to it. Last month, when artist Coco Young was still the artist in residence, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl and members of his staff visited the hospital to call attention to Kings County’s relationship with the Beautiful Distress foundation, and their sponsorship of the artist in residence program.

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Nadja - solo exhibition Coco Young

Maarten Van Overeem

Coco Young

October 21 - November 20, 2016

Opening Reception, October 21, 6-9pm

All I can see in this moment are my hands/fingers typing this and the tip of my nose if I cross my eyes. My so-called “legs” have disappeared under a desk. Do I even have feet? I don’t believe that they exist, but I would notice if they were cut off.  If I look beyond my screen, out of the window and into the next building, one of those shadows is Nadja, standing in the institution where she is being cared for. Nadja, she embodies freedom, but only inside of her own mind; the rest of her is constricted to four pastel-colored walls. When she screams, nobody can understand her. To Nadja, we don’t even exist.

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NYC Commissioner of Cultural Affairs at Kings County

Maarten Van Overeem

In August we were visited by Tom Finkelpearl, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner and members of his staff to call attention to Kings County’s relationship with the Beautiful Distress foundation, and our sponsorship of the Artist in Residence program. The Foundation uses art in an attempt to open up the world of psychiatry and battle the stigma attached to it. Beautiful Distress believes art is pre-eminently capable of articulating and depicting the human condition. 

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INNER CITY - opening september 30

Maarten Van Overeem

This autumn, Cityscapes will explore the theme ''Inner City'' in yet another building on the Marineterrein Amsterdam: 'Het Officiersverblijf' (025). Interiors, the centre of the city, subterraneous edifices, and maybe most significantly; the architecture of the psyche!  Some of the most distinguished Dutch artists and architects concerned with the 'Inner City' , join forces in a multilayered and faceted exhibition, with solo, duo and group presentations on several floors of building 025. 

Among the participating artists is Aldo van den Broek, who worked in the Beautiful Distress residency in Kings County Psychiatric Hospital in Brooklyn NY.

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‘I am living the hospital’ - Coco Young

Maarten Van Overeem

Coco Young is the current Beautiful Distress Artist in Residence in Kings County Hospital, Brooklyn. She is, after Annaleen Louwes, Aldo van den Broek and Christiaan Bastiaans, the fourth artist taking up a residency in the hospital and the first American.

Here she shares a few of her impressions and thoughts with the Beautiful Distress audience. A short Q & A.

Coco, why did you agree to take up this residency?

‘I decided to take up the challenge of this residency because my work is very much affected by the environments and situations that I find myself in. In order to talk about something with my work, I need to fully integrate myself in it, I need to live it. When I was younger I wanted to be a detective. My practice has an investigative side, I usually do a lot of research and immerse myself in a subject, almost like method acting. I’m sure you can imagine that being at Kings County has affected me heavily, and my experience of it is coming out through my work.'

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