Transformed by artThere is a group of dedicated, young art practitioners in Nepal, who believe that art can alleviate suffering not simply in the form of distraction or an escape but as a powerful, transformative practice that can lead to true convalescence and personal growth
When I walked into Siddhartha Gallery last week, I had no idea what to expect of the latest showing—when I walked out, what I had seen surprised and inspired me.
Instead of the usual array of wall pieces and installations that the double-storied space tends to exhibit, I was greeted by clusters of medium-sized, somber looking photographs with the occasional, accompanying text. These paintings were originally conceived as permanent fixtures for the Kanti Children’s Hospital waiting area and are being shown at SAG only for the duration of the exhibit. The works and their format were often simple but conceptually sharp and poignant. Most important thing though was the intent behind them, which was to not just beautify but to furnish with affection and meaning what was once a sterile space that offered little spiritual respite to the sick and afflicted.
The exhibit showcased artworks created over 18 months by a group of dedicated, young art practitioners in Nepal, who believe that art can alleviate suffering not simply in the form of distraction or an escape but as a powerful, transformative practice that can lead to true convalescence and personal growth.
The text underneath the pictures read: “Health Transformed by Art is a community art project initiated by Siddhartha Art Gallery ... It aims to bring out the unseen therapeutic value of visual arts in a hospital setting.” Though clichéd upon first read, I soon discovered that what made this project extraordinary was the sheer commitment of the artists involved. They put in months of research and preparation to this project and invested a lot of time and resources acquiring the materials necessary, all so they may improve the experience of hospital goers to the best of their capacity. Their final work should also be noted as something of a feat in empathy and solidarity.
The project location was Kanti Children’s Hospital, Maharajgunj, which is the oldest and the only government-run children’s hospital in Nepal. The major activities included painting murals in the hospital corridor to revitalise the waiting area and installing artworks made from hospital waste as a method of upcycling non-hazardous waste material and further enlivening the public hospital’s ambiance. The project was conceived in February 2017 and SAG worked with the young leading team of Health Transformed by Art, Raju Giri, Anoj Subedi and Shristi Shakya, who have a collective vision of taking art outside of galleries into public spaces and impacting the general public directly. As Kanti is a government hospital, getting the project approved itself was a difficult task and the changing bureaucratic structure made matters worse. It took the team six months to get the approval. Initially, the project was only concerned with mural paintings but later the idea expanded to include installations made from refuse material.
Of the total amount of wastes generated by health care activities, about 85 percent are non-hazardous wastes and the project started by collecting such non-hazardous wastes from six different Kathmandu hospitals.
The major activities of the project were preceded by Art Based Therapy workshops. The workshop included local emerging artists who conducted therapy sessions with child cancer patients. The Art Based Therapy session was conducted by Art therapist Lajja Dixit. Attendees were introduced to the concept of using art to reflect, learn and to heal so that they may then hone their skills and mold their approaches according to the needs of the children.
On the 13th and 14th of March, the second part of the workshop was held where young artists engaged child cancer patients through art therapy. These art based therapy sessions helped the children de-stress, reduce anxiety and be receptive to medication. “Children are missing their schools and normal lifestyles and are only surrounded by doctors, medicines and the same monotonous space while in the hospital. An introduction of this colourful medium helps them connect with other aspects of their life and talk about something different,” said the Art Therapist, Lajja Dixit. The larger objective of the workshop was to influence and encourage the hospitals to include art sessions in their treatment as well, because children admitted in the hospital were found watching movies, cartoons or playing video games, and were not engaged in activities that piqued their creativity or counteracted their illness.
After the Art Based Therapy workshop, they worked on Mural Art. From April 15th, 2018, mural paintings were initiated outside the observation ward of Kanti Children’s Hospital, which is one of the most visited areas of the hospital. The murals were designed and painted by artists, Kiran Maharjan and Shraddha Shrestha. The team of artists Gopal Shrestha, Nikhil Shakya and Niru Giri assisted Kiran Maharjan and Shraddha Shrestha on the project. It took the artists over a month to complete as the corridor area which was often crowded with patients since the general goings about of the hospital had to continue while the murals were in progress. The painting generally began from 3 pm when checkup hours ended and there was less movement in the area. By May 18, seven different murals were completed. “The project helped visitors and patients to see the hospital in a completely different perspective, not just as a sterile place to recuperate in but also as an engaging space and a source of positivity,” said, artist Maharjan. The adjoining space also held installation artworks made of recycled material from the hospital premises.The installation artworks were made by artist, Mekh Limbu along with a group of young emerging artists from two local art institutions—Kathmandu University School of Arts, Centre for Art and Design and Sirjana College of Fine Arts. According to Manish Lal Shrestha, the Programme Coordinator from Sirjana College, “students were immersed in the opportunity to create a body of art using hospital waste material. This beautifully demonstrates the responsibility towards the community felt by these students.” The installations were supported by Sipradian Sahayata Sanstha.
The exhibition also included new works made by artists in residence at Mcube: Hanna Allen, Gaurav Dangol, Dania Gonzalez, Subista Kayastha, Andrea Lama, Hishila Maharjan, Yajyu Manandhar, Jessica Miller, Michelle Norton, Jenik Lal Shrestha, Saphal Shrestha, Nabina Sunuwar, Pawan Sunuwar, Brandon Welchko also created a series of works made out of recycled waste to help fundraise for future hospital projects.
Celebrated artist, Ang Tsherin Sherpa created a unique painting in the same vein. A limited edition of prints based on the hospital murals by Kiran Shrestha and Shraddha Shrestha were also donated to the hospital. The exhibition will run till August 17 at the Siddhartha Art Gallery. In using art comprehensively, as a means of healing, waste management, and inspiration, this project is the first of its kind in Nepal. Project Health Transformed by Art hopes to influence other individuals and organisations to replicate this concept so that together they might make a greater impact in a society that truly needs it. Theirs is a worthy initiative and one worth spreading.