Burgh House, Hampstead - July 2005

"Seven artists at work in one body"

by Alison Oldham,  Ham and High, July 2005


The exhibition Multiple Choice seems like the work of seven different artists. In fact it's the work of one person, Kim Noble, who has dissociative identity disorder and has managed to give a voice to her many personalities through art therapy

Kim Noble is a 43-year-old woman, mother of a much loved seven-year-old girl. And strange as this may sound, last week I was in the same room as her body for an hour and a half but I didn't meet Kim.

I did talk to two of the many personalities for whom Kim's body is host - seven of whom paint in radically different styles. All have been informed at their separate email addresses that there is an exhibition of their work, Multiple Choice, under Kim's name at Burgh House.

And while all appreciate each other's paintings, they do not all appreciate each other.

I was briefly in the company of a shy teenaged personality, Aimee, who creates surprisingly sophisticated mixed media work such as Memories. She resented being surrounded by the prolific output of an older personality, a mother, despite liking her art. And she feels this woman, who is always mysteriously absent when the teenager is around, uses her as an involuntary babysitter.

By contrast, the main personality was sharply aware of what dissociation involves as a parent and as an artist. She gave me some idea of what it was like to share a body and studio with six other painters when I went for a preview of the exhibition.

Except at lunchtime when the teenager was present, enjoying the food, I spent my time with the well informed, warm personality that I'll call the mother. She explains how the outpouring of art began 18 months ago when Dr Sinason arranged for art therapist Debbie McCoy to work with her. Within two weeks, using poster paints on wallpaper to depict robotic figures, the first of the personalities to express themselves visually had swung into production.

The mother presented her own work tentatively, seemingly ashamed of four striking canvases of spiky flowers and accounting for the number of landscapes in deep purples by not being able to get the effect she sought.  Yet she spoke with relish about her love of thick paint, boldly used for these figurative works.

The mother seemed a little taken aback by the teenager's artistic talents. "I don't know how she does it," she said of Memories, which includes a trompe d'oeil portrait of the artist's mother as a glamorous blonde or an aproned figure and a triangular mound of objects, photographs and papers described in a poignant poem.  This was said admiringly but is literally true as there seems to be no common memory between personalities. On going to her studio in the morning, the mother never knows what canvases she will find, freshly painted by other personalities already up and about. The artists' day regularly begins at 4am.

Public awareness of dissociation was raised last year by the Bafta award-winning BBC drama May 33rd, starring Lia Williams and written by Guy Hibbert, who both live in West Hampstead. Kim, in several personalities, was a consultant on the programme.

The mother said her own diagnosis with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly Multiple Personality Disorder, where two or more personalities have recurring control of one body, came as a relief after years of misdiagnoses. But she dislikes the term disorder, suggesting mental illness.

Nearly 10 years ago, Kim was one of 51 people interviewed for a research project on ritual trauma by Rob Hale, former director of the Portman Clinic, and Dr Sinason, then a consultant psychotherapist in learning disabilities at the Tavistock Clinic in Swiss Cottage. When the project ended, Dr Sinason established the Clinic for Dissociative Studies to further explore DID's link with trauma. Her husband David Leevers assists in this pioneering enterprise.

Multiple Choice is an outcome that combines viewing pleasure with insight into dangerous and controversial medical territory. It does not include the most disturbing paintings by an adolescent personality who incorporates graphically shocking slogans and pools of blood or blood-like spatterings. But there are provocative images, like armless bodies.

Kim et al have said they feel happy now they have art in their life. Integration is not an aim, but having all their art in one room is a moving experience of creative coexistence since they can't see each other.

The diversity of styles and subjects is intriguing. As the only art training involved was the initial stint of therapy, this exhibition is of interest to admirers and collectors of Outsider Art.

o Multiple Choice was on show at Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead, July 2005.