Portrait of a silent killer

Two self portraits by Chloe Tupper painted in 2009.

A YOUNG artist’s legacy of works are on display in a memorial exhibition that she hoped would shed the stigma and myths around Anorexia Nervosa. 

Chloe Tupper died June 9 2020, aged 32. 

For most of her life she experienced severe and enduring anorexia nervosa, a chronic form that affects about one in five people with anorexia nervosa. She was hospitalised many times from age 14, often against her will.

Tupper found peace through her artwork, painting prolifically as she grew more unwell, and hoped her paintings and writings would shed light on the illness and fight some of the cliches.

Mental health

Laura Kiely is an eating disorders clinician and researcher who was close with Tupper and wanted to help share her story, helping catalogue a collection of the artists’ paintings and words in a new book A Life Within Stillness: Illuminating Severe Enduring Anorexia Nervosa.

“I collaborated with Chloe [in what] started out as a practical task: She was very unwell, and I offered my support to catalogue her prolific art collection, and through that process she then shared how her illness manifested in her artwork,” Kiely says. 

“She would like her illness to be a little better understood and for the treatment to reflect that.”

Beyond just a desire to be “skinny”, about 70 per cent of people with anorexia nervosa have another mental health diagnoses including depression, anxiety or OCD. Some have a history of trauma and self harm, and some seek to control the only thing they feel they have domain over: What they eat. 

The mortality rate of AN is high, about one in 20, sometimes by suicide or slowly by organ damage. 

Highest mortality

Kiely says after many years specialising in eating disorders, being on maternity leave recently gave her the time to “reflect on the state of play regarding treatment, and that has led me to committing to tell Chloe’s story, because there really is a gap in how we understand and treat this illness.

“One in 20 die. It has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, but it’s somehow forgotten about in terms of treatment and resources.

“People with anorexia nervosa often suffer in silence and die quietly.

“There is a severe lack of public or private services for anorexia nervosa which is one of the reasons I remained so committed to sharing Chloe’s story as her legacy.

“There were no suitable treatments available to her.”

A Life Within Stillness, the exhibition and book, launches August 19 at Stala Contemporary Gallery 6.30pm at 12 Cleaver Street, West Perth, and runs til August 28. Hours and works are at www. stalacontemporary.com.au

Proceeds from the book are donated to eating disorders research. 

by DAVID BELL

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