New journal Outside Voices brings art to society’s margins

The Violinist. Hasan Boolveek. 2011

The Violinist. Hasan Boolveek. 2011 - Credit: Archant

Outsider art, sometimes called “art brut”, was a term coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet for works that were “diamonds in the rough, with flaws”.

Back in 1945, he lauded this form of raw, uncooked art by non-professionals with no thought for money or fame.

Now a Swiss Cottage photographer has taken Dubuffet’s ideas on board by launching a new art publication which aims to give a voice to those marginalised and rarely heard.

Outside Voices brings together artists who have come to their work through a journey of addiction, psychological issues or torture. The results are sometimes heartbreaking, at other times joyful, inspiring and brimming with love and humanity.

Its founder, Maya K Hirsch, a documentary and fine art photographer, is well placed to explore the world of the outsider. “My mother’s family were refugees from Germany; my grandmother was Jewish and they were given asylum by a Quaker college in Pennsylvania in the United States in 1940.

“They stayed there until 1952, when the family relocated to Switzerland, where they settled.”

On her father’s side, the family hailed from Budapest. “My family are an inspiration, they appear in my art.”

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Mental health

The first issue, which came out earlier this year, dealt with people in the mental health system. Hirsch explains the reason was to destigmatise preconceptions of mental health issues and addiction.

“We feel there is a need for people who are marginalised to have a voice. We live in a world which is consumed by materialism and often self-interest. The spiritual dimension also tends to be missing in commercial art. It is the outsiders who, by the nature of being outsiders, are free to imagine and to create.”

Aiming to generate a greater awareness of human rights, the magazine publishes photography, painting, poetry and stories by various groups including asylum-seekers and refugees who have suffered political violence. “We also want to make a space for women’s stories to be heard, including women who’ve experienced the horrors of sex trafficking.

“Every day we see shocking images of countries around the world where war and conflict are rife. While we can escape these images by simply changing the channel on our television or computer screen, for some, these horrors are a part of their life. Having their art seen in public is a crucial part of the healing process.”

Highlights of the first issue include painter Corrine’s Clowns, which has drawn comparisons to Watteau and Matisse, and David Malin’s poem Strangers, which depicts a modern-day wasteland through the London Underground. Hirsch’s own photograph Camden Punk 2010, meanwhile, is perhaps the best example of the outsider status she is trying to bring to the fore.

“The artists tell their stories of loss, fear, pain and terror. In the process, they come to terms with their past and also create works which are often sublime and profound. A voice is essential in outsider art. A voice gives the outsider artists dignity and identity in a harsh and often cruel world. It’s also important outsiders are heard to make society more humanitarian and the world a little bit kinder.”

n For more information about Outside Voices, visit