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Finnish Artist Kustaa Saksi Depicts What Migraine Auras Look Like in 'First Symptoms' Tapestry Series

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One of the most common misconceptions surrounding migraine is that it’s “just a bad headache — perhaps with some nausea or light sensitivity thrown in occasionally. In reality, there are many different types of migraine that each can produce a range of symptoms and side effects. For Finnish artist Kustaa Saksi, it’s one of these less common migraine symptoms that has most intrigued him, inspiring him to create a series of tapestries called “First Symptoms.”

“Being a lifetime sufferer, I have a very personal relationship with my migraine,” Saksi explained to The Mighty. “What fascinates me is the visual delusions connected to the attacks. Usually pattern-based, kaleidoscopic, identical structures sometimes flickering, forming and reforming all over the visual field — common in migraine auras for most sufferers. As an artist, I’m trying to make sense of these delusions and visualize the beauty of them into my artworks.”

These types of visual disturbances are connected to a type of migraine called migraine with aura, which affects about 25 to 30 percent of people with migraine. An aura, sometimes known as a “warning sign,” is a series of sensory disturbances that happen before a migraine attack and usually last for 20-60 minutes. These sensory disturbances may be largely visual, like the ones Saksi experiences, but they could also involve sensory changes (e.g. feeling tingling or numbness) or speech or language problems (e.g. slurring or being unable to produce the correct words).

Saksi has been experiencing these symptoms since childhood. “I have had migraines for most of my life; the first attack I remember occurred when I was coming home from school at age 7,” he told TL Magazine. He continued:

I had borrowed a stack of comics from my friend and couldn’t wait to get into my room to read them when it happened: A brilliant, shimmering light appeared to my field of vision. It expanded, becoming an enormous shimmering circle, with sharp zigzagging borders and brilliant yellow and green colors. I was frightened — I could no longer read as the letters were skipping or disappearing entirely, leaving blank spaces on the pages and my left hand had gone numb. A throbbing headache appeared and from then on I knew I was going to continue the curse of my family: being a migraineur.

Saksi, an artist and designer, attempted to capture what these visual disturbances look like for him by turning to tapestries. He combined a variety of materials, including cotton warp, mohair, silk, alpaca, wool, velvet, rubber, viscose, copper and transparent polyester yarns to create colorful, geometric depictions of his experiences.

Though the symptoms of migraine can often be “invisible” to others, Saksi’s tapestries offer a look into what it’s like to experience visual aura.

“It is intriguing to think the migraine attack might offer us a glimpse, like a looking glass, into the mind’s eye,” he explained. “Geometric and scrolling motifs seem familiar to us no matter which culture we’re engaged with: repeating wallpaper designs, spiderweb-like figures or concentric circles and squares, decorative paper-cut snowflakes, mosaics, spirals and swirls. Although it’s a horrendous state, I’m hoping sufferers find my artworks somewhat comforting through the soft, gentle materials I’m using when weaving my artworks.”

Saksi has shared several images of the tapestries on his Instagram:

“First Symptoms” will be on display at the Finlands institutets Galleri in Stockholm until March 2, 2019. The tapestries will then be on display in a solo show at the Spazio Nobile in Brussels from May 17 until Sept. 8, 2019.

Lead photo via Kustaa Saksi’s Instagram

Originally published: March 1, 2019
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