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Self Contained Exhibition @ Freud Museum

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by Bastion Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
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What do Children Think When They Close Their Eyes?
rebecca fortnam, self contained, freud museum
by Rebecca Fortnam

A couple of years ago I visited the Museum of Childhood, and out on the walls of the foyer were a series of drawings that showed children with their eyes closed. The little note on the side said how they were meant to explore children's emotions when they are asleep. Their contented expressions gave me the same feelings of ease.

Two years on, it looks like these drawings have had a change of residence as they are now on display at the Freud Museum until the 26th May. The Self Contained exhibition displays the work of the artist, Rebecca Fortnum, whose Dream series explores identity and the power of the gaze. I'm sure there are many parents who wish their children could 'contain themselves' or kerb their enthusiasm in certain circumstances. Let's face it, when a child is awake, that is never going to happen; they will remain bubbly and energetic until every ounce of energy is expelled. Only when a child closes his/her eyes and falls asleep does some kind of peace descend.

Isn't it ironic then, that when you see your children sound asleep, a slight curl of the lips forming on their faces, that you wish you could step inside their head, and see what they are dreaming? You finally manage to get some silence, and then you want to enter the madness going on inside a child's mind. Talk about being contrary.

If you have ever wondered what your child was dreaming, then you will probably identify with Fortnum's drawings. The eyes are considered the window to the soul, so if a child's eyes are closed, access to their thoughts is denied. Or perhaps not. Part of the pleasure of viewing Fortnum's work is trying to interpret the subject's state of mind without that available window. By studying the curve of the lips, of the wrinkle on a nose, can we determine the child's mood?

What I particularly liked about the drawings is that they are pencil sketches. Most of the artwork on display in galleries are paintings or sculptures. In comparison, exhibitions of pencil sketches are not very frequent. I guess it is because sketches are often considered the preliminary stages of an artist's work; something that has not been finished yet. I think it is good that this raw format is being admired for a change. The sketches are not the only thing on display, however. They are accompanied by portraits by Freud's youngest daughter, Anna, whose series Wide Shut explores similar themes, only with the subject's eyes open. In this way, you can do a comparison to determine which portrait provides you with the most information about the child psyche.
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Why? Thought provoking art
When: Until 27th May
Phone: 44 (0)20 7435 2002
Where: Freud Museum London
Cost: Free
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