The History of NAEMI

NAEMI, short for National Art Exhibitions of the Mentally Ill, was founded in 1988 by Juan Martin. Martin worked as a counselor to mentally ill persons in Miami, Florida where he encouraged patients to create art as a way of distracting themselves. For many, this opportunity for self-expression provided an outlet to create visual representations of their mental illness, the way they viewed the world, and how they viewed themselves. Martin quickly realized the power contained in each piece, drawn from the particular artists’ personal perspective as he or she coped with his or her own illness. With these individuals in mind, Martin founded NAEMI, a non-profit organization dedicated to discovering, studying, promoting, exhibiting, and preserving the art of those struggling with mental illness throughout the world.

The “art of the mentally ill” is defined by NAEMI as art produced by individuals, usually self-taught and without any formal artistic training, whose work arises from an intense, innate personal vision. Since its formation, NAEMI has grown to collect artwork from artists in the USA, Spain, England, Argentina, Paraguay, Mexico, Brazil and Chile. The organization’s Permanent Collection has grown to include nearly 1,000 pieces of art and NAEMI’s Annual Art Exhibition in Miami receives around 900 entries. The annual show and various traveling exhibitions seek to educate the public about mental illness and aid in overcoming negative stereotypes.

The Exhibition

Visionaries of the Light was organized by NAEMI and curated by Director Ricardo Viera. The exhibition focuses on photographs from NAEMI’s Permanent Collection. According to Juan Martin, “they are photos for looking at ourselves up close, for finding ourselves, or for losing ourselves as we chase the authentic dream of our everyday abyss, or our dark double, in the hallucinatory world of dreams.” The artists featured in this exhibition use photography as a medium in some way to tell their stories. Some images are black and white, some colorful, some sharp and intense, and others blurred and muted, but all of them will make you stop and see.

The featured artists are Alan Arkley, Barbara Rutherford, Gabriel Fernandez, Gabriel Romanio, Javier Karat, Jorge Alberto Hernandez Cadi, Kristy Wagstaffe, Marcelo Roca, Martha Iris Peresz Santana, Pablo Morales, Robin Rust, Roger Sadler, Ramon Losa, Ruben Rey, and Victor Scheffer. Two of the artists wished to remain anonymous. There is very little background information on some of them; for instance, all we know about Robin Rust is his or her name. The works on display are all photographs, but they’re all different, all unique, and that’s what binds them all together.

Visionaries of the Light is on display in the Gallery at Rauch Business Center until December 10, 2017.