According to the Samaritans, around 3 in every 10,000 men between the ages of 45-54 die from suicide in Wales every year. It is the single biggest cause of death of young Welsh men - and all are potentially avoidable losses.
Having been affected by suicide personally, I wanted to make a graphic poster to help raise awareness of the need for men to talk more about mental illness such as depression, stress, anxiety or low self-esteem.
The names Clive, Jonathan and Paul refer to three Welshmen who I have known who took their own life; as did a close University friend - who was called Harry. The tragedy of their loss upon the families and friends of these victims was compounded by feelings of guilt, anger, abandonment and betrayal. At one of the lowest points in my life, I rang the Samaritans - and it probably saved me.
I hope this poster will encourage other men to talk.
Allan Williams was my grandfather. He had a rough start to life when his mother died in a blizzard in 1925 when he was just a year old. He was sent off to live with an aunt who themselves were struggling to feed their own children, let alone him. When his father remarried, Gaga, as we called him, finally went to her farm and found happiness and a loving stepmother. He married my grandmother, a wartime 'Land Girl' on a neighbouring farm, and together, they raised four children on their dairy farm.
Gaga died in 2005 after several years of living with dementia. It is the cruelest of diseases. As one friend put it, you lose these people twice; once when they stop recognising you and again when they die.
This montage represents what I think dementia must be like - memories and fleeting images of loved ones circling around, escaping, distorted and unclear ... all while a losing battle is fought to prevent one's 'true-self' disappearing.
It is frightening, heartbreaking and lonely, yet while dementia will soon overtake heart disease to be the primary cause of death of Welsh people, there are still so many unanswered questions about this tragic disease.
At 9:13am on Friday, 16th October, 1966 an immense heap of saturated coal-mining waste avalanched through a primary school, a farm and around 20 houses of the mining village of Aberfan near Merthyr Tydfil. The disaster claimed the lives of 28 adults, and 116 children.
The inquiry set up to investigate the circumstances of the disaster concluded:
“...the Aberfan Disaster is a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings, and of total lack of direction from above. Not villains but decent men, led astray by foolishness or by ignorance or by both in combination, are responsible for what happened at Aberfan.”
Despite this, the inquiry led to neither criminal nor civil prosecutions - not even to a single resignation. The National Coal Board was held liable to pay compensation to the victims’ families, but their initial offer of just £50 per child did much to fuel anger amongst the community.
This is, therefore, not just a lost, but a stolen generation.
Below are 116 images of children that have I created as a memorial to those who lost their lives that day. They are not meant to be portraits of individuals, they are simply metaphorical or representational, but each has been individually created with care, sympathy and compassion. Many are almost child-like scribbles, several are highly rendered and a few are liminal, barely there. They are intentionally small-scale, inviting closer inspection.
The Colours of Aberfan
White-blond hair; singing songs of Jesus.
White were their socks, pulled to their knees,
White were their faces, scrubbed with mam’s spit.
White were their books’ fresh new leaves,
White from the chalk, copying from the board.
White were the teacher’s rolled up sleeves.
Black it was - that moment of despair.
Blue clock hands ceased at nine thirteen.
Green Hollow’ (‘Pantglas’), now enshrouded;
Grey mist lifts to a nation’s scream.
Red-eyed miners scraping bare handed.
Brown, broken walls; a deathly scene.
White was the hankie, beyond tears.
White marble arches, now mark their graves.
White haired men with their corporate fears.
White - the wash - with which they painted.