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Synopsis: Coming from a severely dysfunctional family which led to group homes and institutionalization in her teenage years, Susan Spangenberg cut her outsider artist teeth at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s renown ‘Living Museum’ art rehabilitation program. It was there in 1995 that she met Issa Ibrahim, fellow artist at the Living Museum and inpatient in the hospital, committed under the Insanity Plea for the unintended death of his mother. They fell in love and though Susan was in and out of the system she continued to visit Issa weekly for 15 years, who remained locked up without a release date.

Susan was on the vanguard of the ‘Girl Interrupted’ female asylum artist wave that has in twenty years become the new normal, yet she has maintained the raw essence of that genre imbued with a twenty-first century sensibility. Upon winning his release from Creedmoor in 2009 after a contentious court battle, Issa embarked on a moderately successful art career buoyed by appearances in a 1999 HBO documentary, a 2013 NPR audio story and the publishing of his memoir The Hospital Always Wins in 2016 with Chicago Review Press.

Together for 26 years they now share a rent-subsidized apartment in Queens, N.Y., with two rescued cats and plenty of original artwork created collaboratively and individually adorning the walls. They are both members of Artlifting, an online platform promoting the art of the underserved, and Fountain House Gallery, the premier NYC gallery showcasing the art of the mentally ill.

Medicated and engaged in effective psychotherapeutic treatment, Issa and Susan continue to defy the odds. Coming from tumultuous beginnings and thrust into a hellish system for most of their adult lives, they have found a type of old school bohemian domestic bliss.

They are well aware of and artistically chronicle the civil unrest, political upheaval, environmental crises and a once in a century pandemic that is killing the poor, has decimated the middle class and rendered even the super-rich unsteady. With everyone seemingly suffering from the anxieties and unwellness that they have come to embrace and live with, Issa and Susan are stable, healthy, hopeful and still very creative, like the calm at the center of the hurricane.



Run Time

54 minutes


Issa Ibrahim
Susan Spangenberg

Directed by

Issa Ibrahim

Director's Statement

Survivor of the unimaginable, Issa Ibrahim continues to challenge convention and apathy with a one-two punch and a song in his heart.

Director's Bio

ISSA IBRAHIM was born in 1965 in Jamaica, New York to an artist mother and a musician father, and it was discovered early that Issa had a gift for rendering. The talent was nurtured in a creative familial environment benefiting from boundless encouragement and constant exposure to a myriad of artistic expressions.
Graduate of NYC’s High School of Art and Design, Issa studied at the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League.

He acquired early freelance employment in the 1980’s creating album cover and merchandise designs for Enigma/EMI recording artists The Del-Lords and drawing risqué cartoons for Al Goldstein’s SCREW magazine.

In the 1990’s, after aimless wandering, losing his mind and soul searching, Issa found himself institutionalized in an asylum with a head full of ideas and a heart full of soul. Reclaiming his life from the jaws of absolute defeat, Issa finds meaning and purpose as an artist, musician, writer, activist and 20-year artist-in-residence at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s Living Museum.

Recipient of Individual Artist Fund from New York State/Queens Council of the Arts- 1996.

Featured artist on German Public Television program ‘Selbstbestimmt’ (Self-determined)- 3/1997.

Featured artist in HBO documentary The Living Museum, directed by Academy Award winner Jessica Yu, spotlighting the achievements and participants of the open studio/program- 6/1999.

Speaker at International Conference on Body Image and Identity in Contemporary Society- CUNY Grad Center- NYC- 4/2011.

Subject and participant in a doctoral presentation about mental health, life in art, and healing at the New York State Psychological Association Annual Convention- Saratoga, NY 6/2012.

NYC Comic Con- Jacob Javits Center- 10/2012.

Featured artist on Queens Public Television program Journeys- 10/2013.

Subject of hour long audio story The Hospital Always Wins produced by National Public Radio’s State of the Re:Union- 10/2013, which won the 2104 Edward R. Murrow Award for Best News Documentary and the 2014 Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Director’s Choice Award.

Issa Ibrahim’s musical documentary debut film Patient’s Rites won Best Documentary Award of Merit from the IndieFEST Film Awards. It was screened at the 2014 Big Apple Film Festival, Tribeca Cinemas, NYC, FLICKERS: Rhode Island International Film Festival 8/2015, the Community Access/NYAPRS New York City Mental Health Film Festival in 9/2015, the REEL Recovery Film Festival in 10/2015, The Willibroadus Draait Door Art and Music Mental Health Festival, The Netherlands in 9/20016, and the Au Contraire Film Festival Montreal in 10/2016.

Featured artist in documentary/independent film That Which Is Possible, a film about The Living Museum by filmmaker Michael Gitlin- 2/2015. The film had its NYC premiere in the Whitney Museum of Art 4/2016.

Author of The Hospital Always Wins: A Memoir, published by Chicago Review Press 6/2016. This was met with highly favorable reviews leading to interviews on NPR and other radio outlets, international press and features including O Magazine.

Issa has been staff artist for Loaded Goat Records, designing and painting CD covers and merchandise for indie North Carolina pop bands The Spongetones and Jamie & Steve since 2006. He continues to participate in numerous art and mental health exhibitions the world over especially in his hometown of New York as a member artist of Fountain House Gallery, the premier gallery for promoting the work of mentally ill artists.

Issa will continue to challenge preconceived and prejudicial ideas in society, combat stigma, expose the realities of our broken mental health system and explore how openness can aid in respecting psychiatric sufferers and survivors who are our fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, friends, neighbors and ourselves.

Production Year


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