Ghazals, mime, sketching, painting... art forms all, but also therapy that benefits patients of all ages and helps treat a broad spectrum of ailments, including cancer. And this art-therapy combine is at play at the Ernakulam General Hospital where artists have been working with patients as part of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014.
As Dr Iva Fattorini, chair of the Global Arts and Medicine Institute, Cleveland Clinic, put it, "... the power of the arts and the power of the mind have been underestimated for a long time". Fattorini was in Kochi as part of the exhibition to explain the nuances of art therapy.
An exciting and creative form of therapy, it extends to patients of all ages, allowing emotional healing and, in turn, physical healing. Along with counselling, it is said to engage the person "psycho-socially, cognitively and physically". The therapist, a qualified and skilled clinician, combines a planned therapeutic approach with art techniques and also creates a personal bond with the patient. This therapy can be extended to people with all kinds of requirements — those battling anger, grief or frustration as well as those with more serious conditions.
According to Fattorini, art and medicine were always connected. Due to our focus on the physical realm, she says, we lost connection with the deep and powerful mystery of our consciousness.
"The same artwork that you might see in the gallery or exhibition, or music your hear in concerts, radiates a completely different energy when you interact with it in a hospital. In places where people come to heal, different communication channels are open. Arts have latent therapeutic power which can best be activated if you put it in a place where the human spirit needs to be uplifted and where values are reset."
Under the Biennale's programme, artists are working with patients to offer them the solace they need in their time of distress. The Biennale Foundation believes that they will be able to extend the reach of their work to the marginalised by collaborating with the Ernakulam General Hospital.
Art in its various forms, performance and visual, changes the dynamic in a government hospital where patients are financially incapable of paid treatment, sometimes even orphaned by their kin. "Patients' moods are seen to change... trapped in gloom and enveloped in a feeling of abandonment, they are seen to show a change in the way they feel, which in turn effects their interaction with their peers."
This, according to Fattorini, is a natural phenomenon of using art in hospitals. "Research in USA and around the world has shown significant benefits of introducing various forms of arts as an integral component of healthcare. Almost half of the hospitals in USA have some type of the arts in healthcare programming," she adds.
The results, she says, have been tremendous and "we hope to achieve the same in Kochi with the collaboration of enthusiastic, well-educated and visionary leaders and culture organisations".
It certainly is a success. The participation has been enthusiastic. "We have an event every Wednesday at 10.30am on the lawns of the hospital. This has been a weekly feature since February 1 this year," said a Biennale representative.
It began with a musical morning by ghazal singing group from Kochi, the Mehboob Memorial Orchestra. On another day, Australian artist Daniel Connel sketched portraits of patients in charcoal for them as gifts, while Pepper, a two-piece band provided the music for the day.
On Women's Day on March 8, seven women artists interacted with the patients and painted, explaining the nuances of their work as they went along. Popular Kerala composer Jerry Amaldev also performed with his orchestra at the hospital to huge applause and so did doctors of the Indian Medical Association who put up a musical morning for the patients.
This, the Foundation hopes, is only the beginning of a relationship that will lead to more "personalised" work with patients. Though the one-on-one approach is not happening yet due to the large numbers involved, Foundation members are already seeing an impact. Fattorini is researching the project and collecting feedback from patients. "People see arts as a luxury, mental or material, while it is actually a necessity.
Kochi has amazing potential to revitalise this old-new concept and develop a new model which can then be taken further."