Katy Tolj, an 18-year-old artist from Melbourne, is using abstract art and illustrations to emotionally explore and condemn the stigma against mental illness. When Tolj states ‘having a mental illness is okay. You are not weird and it’s okay to talk about it’ her statement couldn’t be more pertinent – statistically twenty per cent of the nation will battle mental health issues this year.
Tolj creates illustrations alongside poignant captions to portray mental health issues, promote self-love and empower women. Tolj’s impassioned and illuminative artwork illustrates the commonality of self-deprecation that can often seem entirely isolated and desolate. The illustrations not only depict personal uncertainties but also commend the inner strength it takes to overcome them. Her designs include inspiring captions such as ‘you are allowed to feel’ and ‘here you are living despite it all’.
Katy believes the best way to fight the stigma against mental health is to educate. According to Beyond Blue there are currently one in four young people in Australia that has a mental health condition, and this only drops 5% after the age of 25. Katy wants to educate through her artwork, her illustrations simple but effective. One of her most recent works is a tongue wagging, the statement simply ‘Don’t Hate, Educate’.
It is important to Katy to represent mental health issues in her art due to her personal, emotional struggles and those she has witnessed within her community. She tries to find an encouraging message amongst the societal negativity stating, “I try and turn it back around in a positive way. It needs to be spoken about more, and the shame attached to it needs to be taken away”.
Katy explores a range of societal hush topics including sexual consent. One of her most evocative illustrations contains the caption ‘no does not mean convince me’. She articulates loneliness, writing ‘I have learnt the hard way I have to be my own friend’ and promotes self-love.
Katy knows self-love doesn’t happen overnight. She is aware that although self-love may come easily to others, it didn’t for her. “It’s a life long journey and it’s difficult”. It took practice and a lot of persuasion on her part to switch negative thoughts into positives. “It’s important to remember we aren’t all perfect, everyone has imperfections, and that’s what makes you, you!”
Tolj hopes to continue to motivate through her artwork, endeavouring to hold her first exhibition in the future. Until then you can follow her inspirations on Instagram and (in the words of Katy Tolj) be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best you can.