A Picture of Health
The Assisi Hospice’s St Clare ward was transformed into an art gallery of sorts with the works of Singapore-based artist Eugenia Gajardo. Hashirin Nurin Hashimi discovers the power of art on healing
Eugenia gajardo was looking to volunteer at the Assisi Hospice as a counsellor in March 2017 when she saw how expansive and empty its white walls were. “The walls, in my view, were longing for life, colour and positive energy,” says the Chilean-born, Singapore-based artist, who is also a psychotherapist. That year, the palliative care provider had just moved into its new premises, right next to its previous location at the Mount Alvernia Hospital in Thomson Road. It was not until July last year that Eugenia turned thought into action when a friend, who was a member of the Assisi Hospice fundraising committee, requested for her to donate a painting to be auctioned off at its annual fundraising gala. Eugenia was moved to do more: “At that moment, I knew that I had to dress all the walls of the St Clare ward, and so I did.” The mostly self-taught artist got to work and, in about six weeks, produced more than 20 paintings. The series of artworks raised $20,000 at the charity auction last September, and the entire collection was donated back to the Assisi Hospice, transforming its entire St Clare ward into an art gallery—the first of its kind in a hospice ward in Singapore.
Making this project even more meaningful was the fact that the works were specially created with the hospice patients and their families, as well as the hospice staff in mind. What left the biggest impression on Eugenia was the love and profound care the staff have for their patients. “They wanted the art to uplift and energise the patients. They wanted to see joy and positive energy in the works so that they could touch their hearts.” The resulting collection, in a palette of vibrant colours, was aptly titled Alegria, which is Spanish for joy—the message that Eugenia wants to give through her works. “I want the patients and staff, and the St Clare Ward and Assisi Hospice community itself to feel some degree of lightness of being when they connect with the art, whether in a direct or subliminal way,” she says. “Colours are very powerful and speak about feelings and emotions, and they affect the mood. Bright colours energise, uplift, calm, soothe or excite you.” The response has been positive thus far. Some patients feel encouraged to step out of their rooms and were curious to find out more about the techniques used to create the artworks, generating conversational topics. Such is the power of art, which has long been said to be beneficial to health, healing and well-being. Art therapy is one of the ways hospices in Singapore help its terminally ill patients cope with their situations. On top of medical care, patients at the Assisi Hospice also receive psychosocial, emotional and spiritual care. Art therapy plays an important role in providing psychosocial and emotional support for both the patients and their families through an integrative approach that supports dignity conserving care for those nearing the end of life. Assisi Hospice art therapist Vivian Wong says, “The process involved in art therapy sessions can help patients express concerns and feelings regarding their illness and the challenges faced. The creative process and therapeutic intervention allow patients to give voice to spiritual and emotional distress, access the past and reaffirm their sense of identity. From here, they then explore and process personal and spiritual concerns, make sense of the progression of their physical condition and arrive at a sense of completion.”
Wong adds that art has also allowed many patients with advanced illnesses a sense of accomplishment and offer them and their family and friends opportunities to have conversations around something other than their illness. Some of the artworks that patients display on their walls become topics of interest between them and their visitors, including the hospice staff. “The artwork created often become transcendent gifts and keepsakes for the family and caregivers, something tangible for them to remember their loved ones.” Further highlighting the life-affirming role that art plays in hospice and palliative care, the Assisi Hospice also holds regular exhibitions as a way to showcase and honour its patients’ creative talents and celebrate their efforts, courage and individual styles. Some of the exhibitions mounted in the past two years include Harvest, which showcased the still-life works of the Assisi Hospice Day Care patients, and Every Day. intersection, a parallel presentation of two series of works. Every Day featured works by day-care patients integrating familiar household items, including buttons and cotton buds, into the art-making process, while Intersection reflected a creative space involving weaves and knots made by patients, staff and volunteers. Wong says, “Everyone can make art. From lines and scribbles, to shapes, colours and forms, all of which carry a meaning which we can make sense of when we take time to look back and explore what they have to tell us. Art provides a way for us to take stock and review our life experiences through an unfiltered process; it helps us connect with our inner being, arriving at a place of awareness and acceptance. Art is a leading life force of humanity that help us achieve a sense of connectedness first with ourselves and then others.”
ROAD TO WELLNESS Chilean-born artist Eugenia Gajardo (below) hopes to bring joy and happiness to the Assisi Hospice’s patients and their families, as well as the hospice staff with her collection of artworks, which is aptly titled Alegria (opposite) or joy in Spanish