Dolly Sen

Section 136 is a radical mental health art-action programme where madness is questioned, and institutional monsters are confronted using art, love, rage and sheep.


Dolly Sen

Associated downloads

Bedlamb blog [DOCX]
The Beginnings of Bedlamb – or the Month I had over 20 People in my Bed.

The majority of the filming of Bedlamb has been done. BEDLAMB is my film project on conversations on mental health on a bed covered in cuddly toy lambs. The title ‘Bedlamb’ is a nod to ‘Bedlam’, the nickname for the original Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital. The conversations were located into two very distinct places: the current incarnation of Bethlem Hospital, situated in Beckenham, Kent; and then at the seaside town of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. I have direct links to both places at the moment. I curated an art exhibition on art and protest at the Bethlem Gallery, which is part of the Bethlem site, and I presently live in Great Yarmouth.

I expected two different experiences from those two separate geographical and cultural positions. The Bedlamb at the Bethlem was stationed under the burdened gazes of the famous raving and melancholy madness statues. The day of those conversations was also the same day as the private view of my exhibition, so I knew I would have people well versed in mental health, arts and activism having a chat with me and they knew the subject matter intricately, as did a couple of dogs who joined me on the bed to give me their deep thoughts.

 In Great Yarmouth, Bedlamb was pure experiment: it was literally asking the person on the street what they thought about mental health. I was lucky enough to get some publicity for it in both a BBC News article and a Radio Norfolk interview, so it did raise some interest. We parked the bed outside the X Marks the Spot Gallery, close to the town centre. Once we set up, people were intrigued and kept looking over to where we were, but when I made eye contact with them, they quickly looked away. After the first twenty minutes of no-one getting on the bed to chat, I thought the day was going to be a failure. It took once brave soul to get the ball rolling, and after that a steady stream of people gave their thoughts on mental health. I did not have any dogs joining me on the bed in Great Yarmouth, but I did have a group of siblings who all gave the same answer to the question: ‘What makes you mad?’ The answer was: ‘My brothers and sisters!’

There were answers that were uttered in both locations, but also a difference to both sites of Bedlamb. One of them was that the Bethlem bunch didn’t expect healing from services; whilst the people in Yarmouth thought improvement in people’s mental health came from putting more money into mental health services. I look forward to the editing of this film and see what the film fundamentally says. Although I have some idea, I think I will be in for a surprise. 

Artist and Activist Dolly Sen

Section 136

My arts practices crosses writing, performance, film and visual art. My work is seen as subversive, humorous and radical. I am interested in debate and social experiment around themes of madness, sanity, the other, and acceptable behaviours, from an unusual and unconventional position of power. I am interested in this because I have been labelled mad, although I think my challenging of inequality and vicious systems of the ‘normal’ world makes perfect sense. I am interested in society’s perception of mental health and madness - whether people think ‘it’s all in the head’ and not a response to social and political issues.

Madness is partly political.

Maybe we don’t have mental health difficulties, maybe we are living in a harsh, unjust, corrupt world that causes people to struggle.

To me, sanity is full of ridiculous acceptable behaviour and strange double standards, such as seeing street art as vandalism but the proliferation of demeaning advertising selling pointless things as acceptable. That being loud and aggressive whilst drunk is seen as someone being one of the boys - but if someone is shouting due to being troubled by voices, it is more reason to be scared, even though you are more likely to be injured or killed by the former.

The world is sanitised, not sane.

Why is acceptance and celebration of the mad self seen as lack of insight, when it has been forged by thought, pain and lots of questioning? There is a side to madness that doesn’t get shown, that is intelligent, funny, and pointing of the emperor’s new clothes. Much of this is done through my art. It is time to share that discussion with the rest of the world, and art is a very powerful way to do that. 

In Section 136 Dolly will offer three ‘mad’ acts or interventions ( Bedlamb, Mad sectioning and Broken Hearts for the DWP ) to highlight injustices, ask the public meaningful questions about madness, and explore what is making our society increasingly mentally distressed. 

Being 'sectioned' is the term that is often used when someone is detained under the Mental Health Act. The Mental Health Act is the law which can allow someone to be admitted, detained (or kept) and treated in hospital against their wishes. The police can use section 136 of the Mental Health Act to take you to a ‘place of safety’ when you are in a public place. This is typically used when someone is acting strangely, and the police don’t have an understandable and acceptable reason to make it a straightforward arrest. It is used if the police think that the person might be a risk to themselves or someone else.

But what is ‘acting strangely’ in our society?

What constitutes public display of mental illness which can harm people or those around them?


No. Sexist ads making you feel inadequate?

No. Compassion fatigue?

No. Casual racism?

No. Discrimination towards disabled people?

No. Through this project I intend to change the political narrative about what is happening to disabled people and the narrative that madness is to do with a broken brain and not being part of a broken society. You can have an argument on the phone and be left alone but if you have an argument with your voices, the police will take you a place of safety, which can be very unsafe. Last year there were almost 1,000 incidents of physical injury following restraint, and there have been at least 13 restraint-related deaths of people detained under the Mental Health Act since 1998.