George III grew up at Kew Palace, an idyllic retreat. Years later it was where he was treated during periods of mental ill health. George III is one of the most famous historical mental health patients. Over 200 years since his death, his illness is often treated as a joke. This exhibition challenges this caricature, celebrating his life and achievements whilst exploring the cruel treatment he experienced during his illness.
This exhibition is relevant and timely – one in four people experience a mental health problem each year in England. We worked closely with people with lived experience of mental ill health to produce an empathetic narrative with contemporary reflections integrated throughout in written interpretation for historic objects and a contemporary display of personal objects and stories.
We want to challenge the way people think, talk and feel about mental health today. Feedback from participants and visitors shows that this exhibition resonates with individuals, inspiring them to take action to make positive differences for themselves and others.
As well as building relationships with the groups and community lenders we worked with, this exhibition has also made history more accessible and relevant for all, using the story of George III to encourage conversation and sharing around mental health, and using contemporary relevance to make our historic stories accessible.
We worked closely with people with lived experience and professional expertise to co-create outputs:
- Nine object labels written by men with lived experience of mental ill health creating a counternarrative to the curator-written object labels (see image ‘Community Label’
- Display comprised of 10 objects loaned by Londoners that represent and explore mental health journeys today (see image ‘Lion Bars’
- Five filmed interviews, sharing perspectives on mental health (see video submission)
- Print resource for visitors to support looking after mental health
- Staff training module to increase understanding and reduce stigma surrounding mental health
- Partnership with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to provide £1 entry for communities.
The exhibition has provoked a strong emotional response from visitors, many appearing visibly moved, actively approaching staff to discuss reactions. Families have been observed using the exhibition as an opportunity to talk to children about mental health.
“Incredibly moved and connected. The third floor of the exhibition was amazing. The ten items donated by ones with mental illness was so inspiring. The courage to expose themselves in such a personal way had my husband and I shedding a few tears. We sat down afterwards to reflect on the cruelty shown to George, the love he had for his family and the various types of mental illness experienced in society now.”
The budget for the exhibition was £27,000 and it ran at Kew Palace 4 June – 26 September 2021.
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
The Ben Raemers Foundation