WHEN ART MEETS MEDICINE

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Yinka Olatunbosun

One attention-grabbing work is laid against the wall at the Terra Kulture Art Gallery. It shows two hands: one receiving pills and the other giving pills. It is quite metaphorical for life itself is about give and take. But the message running through the entire body of works at this gallery is larger than that. With the theme, “Arts in Medicine: Uplifting Spirits,’’ this on-going exhibition is not for profit, in fact, not for sale. All the works will be donated to the state-owned hospitals where most of these painters are on admission. The show was declared open by the US Consul General, General John Bray.

It is arguably the first of its kind in Nigeria. It is an initiative that seeks to incorporate the arts into healthcare delivery that is supported by the US Consulate General in Lagos through the funding provided through a public diplomacy grant. Some of the paintings had been executed by patients from different hospitals in Lagos. From cancer to mental health patients, the drive to make art serve its therapeutic function was the real reason for setting out on a project for a collective of individuals whose physical and mental state may have caused depression.

No doubt, there is fulfilment in discovering something that can cheer up a person who is low in spirits. The visual arts proved to be just that tool for mind rejuvenation. Interestingly too, some of the pieces of photography were donated by a foundation in Italy for the exhibition and later preservation.

While some of the paintings were jointly executed, some were done by individual patients who had participated in a series of training to help them articulate their thoughts where words and logic had failed. A note signed Diah is capable of driving a conversation to a halt, with its emotional tone just beside the series of work titled “Behind the Seen’’. It reads: “This seemingly innocuous work of art tells a story. It tells my story. It does not tell of doctors’ appointment, it does not tell of chemotherapies, or apartments or the shame associated with my baldness”.

The note continues with details attempting to convey the degree of physical pain associated with cancer. It can only be imagined that merely putting a canvas before a depressed patient in pain can be a grave mistake. If you are wondering how this painting project was executed, here it is. A 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow, Kunle Adewale is the project lead for Arts in Medicine. He and his team were able to foster a working relationship with patients of depression some of whom had been rape survivors or sickle cell anaemia sufferers through of regime of consistent visits to the hospitals. It began with story-telling and story sharing, cultivated trust earned from shared experiences.

“If they are not calm they will not be able to bring out their best,” he explained. “They must be able to reach a particular state of mind to bring out the level of brightness that you can see on this space. There has not been much research in the use of visual art in medicine in Nigeria. That is why I ventured into this particular area. So, we have launched the Arts in Medicine Fellowship which involves bring artists, medical students, social workers to create collaborative project and works that can be donated to hospitals. This summer, eight of our fellows will be going to the University of Florida to study of arts in medicine. It is a course on its own. There is a college of Art in Medicine at the University of Florida. These fellows will be going on scholarship too.”

The collection includes stringed installation executed by some of the artists in residency. Most of the works done by patients were untitled and anonymous since they were jointly created. Predominantly, the choice of colours for the paintings were bright, conveying that message of hope and optimism.