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

Singapore Tatler - - UPFRONT -

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

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