Mental Traveler: W.J.T. Mitchell speaks to Omar Kholeif about Madness, Cinema and the Panopticon




Mental Traveler: W.J.T. Mitchell speaks to Omar Kholeif about Madness, Cinema and the Panopticon

Activiteit in het kader van de Denkerscyclus 

In Mental Traveler, the world's leading iconologist has let his hair down. Bursting with tenderness unknown to the testosterone fueled walls of the university that gave birth to the likes of 'the Chicago Boys', his new memoir enters Mitchell into a new dimension. For this event he will be in conversation with author and curator, Omar Kholeif who will be playing their best Oprah Winfrey. As intimate revelations unfold across the hour, the duo will explore madness and mourning, as well as the unequivocal marriage between contemporary image culture and the human subconscious. 

W.J.T. Mitchell is Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of art, literature, and cinema at the University of Chicago. He is primarily known as a founder of the field called “visual culture and iconology”, the study of images across the media. His many books include Picture Theory, Image Science, What Do Pictures Want? Seeing through Race, Iconology, and Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9-11 to the Present. He has served as editor-in-chief of the quarterly journal, Critical Inquiry, since 1978.

Omar Kholeif is author, curator and cultural historian is Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation. Kholeif trained as a political scientist and semiotician, starting their career as a journalist and documentary filmmaker before entering into the picture palace of museums. Under the tutelage of the late Professor Jean Fisher, Kholeif’s research and writing has focused on the intersections of technology with post-colonial, queer and critical race theory. The curator of over 100 exhibitions of visual art, architecture and digital culture, Kholeif is also the author and/or editor of 31 books, which have been translated into 12 languages. Recent and forthcoming titles include, Goodbye, World! Looking at Art in the Digital Age (Sternberg Press, 2018); Art in the Age of Anxiety (Mörel/MIT Press, 2021); Internet Art: The First Thirty Years (Phaidon, 2022) and Code-Switchers (Sylvia and Cathy, 2022).


Mental Traveler: A Father, a Son, and a Journey through Schizophrenia

How does a parent make sense of a child’s severe mental illness? How does a father meet the daily challenges of caring for his gifted but delusional son, while seeking to overcome the stigma of madness and the limits of psychiatry? Mitchell’s memoir tells the story—at once representative and unique—of one family’s encounter with mental illness and bears witness to the life of the talented young man who was his son.

Gabriel Mitchell was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age twenty-one and died by suicide eighteen years later. He left behind a remarkable archive of creative work and a father determined to honor his son’s attempts to conquer his own illness. Before his death, Gabe had been working on a film that would show madness from inside and out, as media stereotype and spectacle, symptom and stigma, malady and minority status, disability and gateway to insight. He was convinced that madness is an extreme form of subjective experience that we all endure at some point in our lives, whether in moments of ecstasy or melancholy, or in the enduring trauma of a broken heart. Gabe’s declared ambition was to transform schizophrenia from a death sentence to a learning experience, and madness from a curse to a critical perspective.    

Shot through with love and pain, Mental Traveler shows how Gabe drew his father into his quest for enlightenment within madness...

The Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium invited W.J.T. Mitchell for a ‘thinkers-in-residence’ programme on image science.



1 Introduction 17:00 - 17:10
Bart Verschaffel, Chair Class of the Arts, UGent (speaker)
2 Mental Traveler: Madness, Cinema and the Panopticon 17:10 - 18:10
Omar Kholeif, Director of Collections and Senior Curator, Sharjah Art Foundation (speaker)
Tom Mitchell, Thinker-in-residence, University of Chicago (speaker)

3 Debate 18:10 - 18:40
Hilde Van Gelder, Coordinator of the Thinkers' Programme, KU Leuven (moderator)