On the first floor of Cypress College’s Fine Arts building, there is an art display that catches the eyes of many students and staff as they walk past. A dim setting with white paint, Lotus flowers adorned with soft multi-colored LED lights that lead up to a pair of white wings on the wall with the words “See You in Wonderland,” displayed above them. The mind behind this- Ben Chung.
Though Chung’s artwork may seem simply beautiful and intriguing at first glance, like the message behind it, there is more to it than meets the eye. Chung’s work sheds a light on mental illness and suicide awareness, an issue he states, is “so ugly,” most people try to avoid discussing the topic.
“By making it pretty, people will actually look st kinda ‘out of sight, out of mind it’, and so I tried to make it so that that problem is like a pretty problem…” says Chung.
Suicide and mental illness is something he mentions he has seen and experienced first hand, not only with friends, but also family – his sister in particular, who Chung states is the inspiration behind many of his pieces.
“The first inspiration, like the number one inspiration is my sister. She passed away 9 years ago from suicide and uh it’s been really tough, getting over that…” Chung stated with a slight sigh when asked what inspired “See you in Wonderland.”
From the lotus flowers representing the tattoo sleeve she had on her arm made up of lotus flowers to the white angel wings and the words printed above.
When asked how he’d advise someone on how to handle things if they are in a situation in which they suspect or feel that their loved ones are dealing with mental illness or thoughts of suicide he answered with something contrary to the social norm.
Chung stated that the hotlines that are widely directed to those who are battling with mental illness and suicide themselves are not the solution. He encourages the loved ones of those in need to call the hotlines to inform themselves as opposed to just handing the number to the the person whom they’re concerned about. Chung recalls an experience he had when calling a suicide hotline for advice on how to help a friend who was having suicidal thoughts.
“I asked them, am I supposed to lay out a plan for them? And they said ‘no, you just need to listen. You just need to listen, you just need to be there.’ One of the things they [said was] ask them directly, ‘ Do you feel like killing yourself?’ You have to say it. You have to say that, but people are so afraid of saying that, that it becomes a problem brushed under the rug,” he says.
Ben Chung’s beautiful artwork and words are not only the expression of his inspiration to us but also something we can take a deeper look at, a call to action disguised as an art piece that allows the Cypress Community to look into the eyes of a problem often left unspoken about.