New York based self-taught artist Susan Spangenberg (aka Shyla Idris) has been working on an ongoing series of ‘Asylum Dolls’ representing both cultural icons and unique but relatable ‘average gals’. In many ways, the series and Susan’s work in general align with the themes of Outside In’s Patient Artwork: New Dialogues programme. In this article, she describes her work and the inspiration behind it.


Asylum Dolls is an ongoing art series consisting of icons and the average gal. The icons represented are women in history I identify with because of similarities in trauma, mental illness and confinement to psychiatric hospitals. Authentic psych hospital gowns worn during my inpatient stays are repurposed and incorporated in some of these works.


Marilyn Monroe Asylum Doll

Sylvia Plath Asylum Doll

Frida Kahlo Asylum Doll


I particularly enjoy reading letters, quotes, and other personal writings of the famous figures represented in this series. Their actual words are incorporated on the bodies of the dolls. On the fictional characters, the author’s words are used to further bring life to the dolls.


The Asylum Doll series started from a stick figure drawing representing myself called ‘Girl In Restraints’. For years I wanted to turn this 2D drawing series into a 3D series but was afraid I could not pull it off, until one day I mustered up the courage to experiment and make my first doll, ‘Girl In Restraints’, a self-portrait. It then led into this series ‘Asylum Dolls’ as I reflected on my own hospitalizations and explored women in history I identified with. 


Girl in Restraints

Long Tall Sally

Sad Susie


I also explored many of these women in my research for acting, reading their letters as well as playing Shakespearean characters such as Ophelia from ‘Hamlet’. In this series my visual art, acting and psychiatric history have all come together.


Find more of Susan’s work at:


Outside In gallery: Susan Spangenberg

Instagram: @straitjacketsusan



Originally published by Outside In:


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