By Merit Ibe and Bianca Iboma-Emefu
Perturbed by the experience of pain, health crisis and other life-threatening conditions sickle cell patients face, the Tender Art Foundation, in collaboration with Sickle Cell Foundation, Lagos State Government and the U.S. Consulate, Lagos, has adopted art in health as a practical, therapeutic approach of using art to aid recovery.
“Paintings help to express needs and emotions that can create a welcoming and uplifting environment for patients in hospital scenario, to ease their pain despite the disheartening moment, they might be experiencing crisis.”
This path to joy for those who may feel disheartened, in such moments is made possible by the initiative of YALI alumni project convener, Kunle Adewale, who is also the executive director, Arts in Medicine Projects.
He has provided an ever-expanding array of initiatives that engage the arts, humanities, and design in the service of health and well-being.
Adewale said his contribution was to help clinical and professional staff at all levels in health care settings to introduce and develop the use of the arts in their own spheres of influence.
He explained that arts must be an integral part of people’s lives that can reduce the stress created psychologically, affect the individual and aesthetic stimuli, change mood and behaviour or wellbeing of a patient.
The project reveals quite an amazing therapeutic ingredient that art possesses. Citing the instance of the Sickle Cell Foundation Centre, he said right from the reception, you are welcome with very colourful assorted visual art expressions displaying diverse subjects and messages.
“The works, which range from beautiful landscapes, human forms, objects, etcetera, make you feel at ease immediately and gradually get you drawn towards each piece, thereby, calming earlier uneasy feelings about hospital environment.
That’s the power of art! It’s even more exciting to know that the works were produced by children who were encouraged to paint away their pain while in hospital; an exercise which became quite remedial for them.”
The story of these young ‘artists’, Adewale said, has long been expounded over the years through the Arts in Medicine initiative founded by visual artist, Adewale.
He narrated his journey, which began in 2016 through the support of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Mission in Nigeria.
“I have hosted several arts-in-health programmes in Nigeria and across Africa, with over 20,000 people as beneficiaries. It has been sustained through partnership with government agencies, diplomatic missions, local and international NGOs and private and public sector, to inspire healing, happiness and hope in patients, caregivers, healthcare providers and the community at large,” he explained.
‘Music for Mental Health’, ‘Gift of Music at Christmas’, ‘Mural for Maternal and Mental Health’, and ‘Bedside Arts’ are some of the projects executed so far.
Adewale added that, in his quest to strengthen institutional ties, bridge the gap between the arts and health in Nigeria, and, most importantly, sensitise people on the need to appreciate and support whatever ability that lies in any individual’s physical challenge, they inaugurated the National Arts in Health Conference (NAHCON).
He hinted that the conference hosts about 500 participants, comprising students, professionals, cultural organisations, healthcare institutions, community members and stakeholders in health and community wellbeing.
“This would be a bi-annual event, though hosting the maiden edition, Adewale noted. The conference promises to offer all participants a hybrid experience, as Nigerians participate in both online and on-site activities.
He said he aims at creating a policy where art becomes culture in the health care system, adding that the hope is that Art in Health will not just be a state or place of recovering but giving job opportunity to the staff working in the health space and the recovering patient.
He aims at millions of Nigerians benefiting from the art either in the hospital or for personal wellbeing.
Lagos State Commissioner of Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, reaffirmed the pledge by the state government to revamp and improve health care delivery.
Abayomi disclosed the plan to build day care for sickle cell patients, as well as do research that can prevent the birth of children with sickle cell, through advocacy.
“It is not just art in words but designs associated with our culture, using ‘adire’ fabric to create ambience that change the mood of patients, who might be having emotional disorder,” he said.
Research shows that 40 per cent of people living in West Africa region are carriers of sickle cell.
A study at the Caribbean, Jamaica, revealed that 25 per cent of sickle cell patients can live a normal life, without having the knowledge that they are sickle cell patients, until they are told; and they treat malaria, and other infections that cause crisis.
Describing initiatives to improve health care in the use of the arts, he said state of art health facilities would help patients recuperate, using music, poetry artefacts and so on.
On her part, Deputy Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Consulate, Lagos, Jennifer Foltz, said the conference seeks to advocate the inclusion of the arts in health care delivery.
Participants at the event were civil society representatives, faith-based organisations, artists and art enthusiasts, healthcare policymakers, medical professionals, including doctors, nurses and trained caregivers.
Dr. Annette Akinsete, CEO and national director of Sickle Cell Foundation of Nigeria, launched the music video “You are not alone” by the COVID-19 frontliners.
Highlights of the event also included the presentation of awards to nominated national COVID heroes.