|Name: Alex Monkhouse
Event: The Art of Healing Exhibition
Date: 28 – 29 July 2016
Venue: St Thomas’ Hospital, Central Hall
The Art of Healing Exhibition is back again this year, and we’re so thrilled to be part of this impressive showcase.
We recently caught up with trainee anaesthetist Dr Alex Monkhouse, who is one of the organisers and curator of this fantastic event, and this is what we learned.
What motivated you to support Lifebox?
I first heard of Lifebox through a fellow anaesthetist, Julia Neely, who had been involved with raising money for the charity, when we worked together at the Royal Free Hospital in 2013. She was very passionate about the organisation and our discussions led me to learn more about its work.
I think the beauty of Lifebox is that the charity has identified a clear way in which patient safety can be improved that is both sustainable and ethical. I feel that it is impressive because it is an intervention that is both simple and cost-effective and has made a huge difference in terms of anaesthetic and surgical practice.
I decided to support Lifebox when I came up with the concept of the Art of Healing Exhibition because I think that the work that this charity does is excellent, and I wanted to aid them in any way that I could.
This is a really unique event, how did you come up with the idea?
The Art of Healing Exhibition showcased the creative talent of individuals working within the NHS and raised money through donations and the auction of selected artworks.
Working in healthcare is often a balance between the sciences and humanities; maintaining a clinical detachment, whilst remaining empathetic and compassionate for our patients and their relatives. More than almost any other profession, I think we are faced with difficult and emotionally intense situations on a daily basis and therefore we have had to develop processes for dealing with this.
Through the years I have met many healthcare professionals who have used creative outlets to express what they cannot say and to process the difficulties encountered at work, be it through music or art or poetry. The importance of this became apparent to me last year when a friend of mine passed away unexpectedly and in the shock of his death I found myself sitting down to paint for the first time in many years. I found that art, at this time, helped me process my grief and in the aftermath I decided that I wanted to put together an art exhibition focusing on the creative talents of the healthcare professionals within the NHS.
When I first opened up the exhibition for people to submit artworks I was astounded by the number and quality of the artworks that were sent in. Our artists came from a variety of disciplines, backgrounds and geographical locations and the stories that accompanied the artworks were as beautiful and fascinating in their honesty as the paintings themselves. We held the exhibition firstly at St Thomas’ Central Hall and then at the AAGBI – raising a total of £1220 through donations and the auction of selected artworks.
What do you hope audiences will gain from this exhibition?
Viewing an exhibition such as this is a very personal experience, because of the honesty of the stories that accompany the artworks. I chose the theme “the Art of Healing” because it can be interpreted in many different ways and would therefore welcome a wide variety of art and I was very pleased that the exhibition reflected this.
As with any art exhibition, it can be viewed on many levels: simply as art, or as art in the context of healthcare, or as art in the process of healing, either reflecting the artist themselves or the subject. One of the artists said to me, when we were discussing the exhibition, that “every painting is a self-portrait, a part of the artist is left on the canvas, as starkly as blood”. I can appreciate his point.
Through the lens of a camera, you can look through a photographer’s eyes; look at the beautiful composition of Colin Beard’s underwater photographs and it is difficult not to be moved by the shark that he has captured on camera in “Black Tip”, or the irony of Julian Wijesuriya’s “Taking care of paperwork”. It is impossible not to be touched by the emotional bravery of Ruth Young’s “Bipolar and sunshine”, or Claire Frith’s “Child”.
As we set up the exhibition we had many people approach us to ask who the artists were, and without exception they were astounded that these were healthcare professionals, artists working within the NHS; anaesthetists and surgeons, GPs and psychiatrists, librarians and imaging technicians. The exhibition was as varied as the professions. We had abstract art, such as Richard Peacock’s “Le Soleil et La Luna”, the South American influences of Ciara Donohue’s “Radial Geometry” series; collages such as Catriona Fergusson’s “Absence” commenting on the sacrifices made to work in healthcare and the raw emotion and brutal humanity of Suehana Rahman’s collection of portraits.
We had a wide range of people who came to view the exhibition, from amateur artists, to patients, visiting relatives, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, all of whom expressed unique perspectives on the artwork. What I hope is that people who viewed it came away with an appreciation of the talent within the NHS, the humanising of the healthcare professionals who so often may be reserved behind a carefully crafted mask of clinical detachment. It impressed me, and I am glad that artists have contributed again this year to support Lifebox.
What does safe surgery mean to you?
It is well documented that although surgery is an integral part of healthcare systems worldwide, it has generally been neglected in global public health. As surgical safety has been high on the agenda in the UK, it can easily be taken for granted.
I recently worked for six months within Yangon General Hospital, Myanmar, on a capacity building project within the Emergency Theatre Complex, which has highlighted to me how fundamental access to safe surgery is.
In low- and middle-income countries, the burden of disease that may be treated or palliated by surgical intervention is high and even small improvements to surgical safety may improve outcomes. It is clear that it relies not only on the structure of healthcare systems and the allocation of resources, but also on education and the standards of individual practice. Both at home and abroad a frequent evaluation of our practice is essential for optimising patient care.