An exhibition called Living in Silence – IBD is currently on display in the Heart and Lung Centre at the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust until 10th October 2019, exploring and revealing the hidden stories of patients living with a life changing disease – Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
The artists were offered a short residency in the Wolverhampton School of Art based on research produced by the University’s Psychology Department into the community stigma associated with the condition. They created work in response to a set of interviews with South Asian women patients attending local hospitals – one of whom is a graduate from the University.
The patients’ voices are brought to life and made visible through poetry, animation, sculpture and design and a strong theme that has emerged in the work is the tension between the private and often embarrassing nature of living with the symptoms of these diseases and maintaining a public, feminine ‘face’.
Research funded by Crohn’s and Colitis UK and the Rotha Abraham Bequest Trust was undertaken, along with anonymous interviews to explore the issues faced by women with the disease and an Arts Council bid was secured for £12,512 for an awareness project to take place over the past year. It linked New Cross Hospital, as well as University staff and students from the Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Education, Health and Wellbeing, and some of the women who took part in the research.
The residencies were hosted in specific media workshops within the School including Glass, Ceramics, Stitch, Digital and Traditional Print, Photography and Film exploring themes of health, ethnicity and womanhood.
The project was led by Maggie Ayliffe, Head of Wolverhampton School of Art, and Dr Satvinder Purewal, Senior Lecturer in Psychology. Maggie said: "This interdisciplinary project aims to raise awareness of inflammatory bowel disease and the social stigmas experienced by sufferers in the broader community. The artists were challenged with finding new ways of making this experience visible through the visual arts and encourage more open discussion of the issues.
"The project also enables us to create new audiences for art and research among the ethnic communities in the region and stimulate discussion of the importance of art and design in society."
Charlotte Dunn has created a series of textile designs based on intimate drawings of the cell structures of the bowels at different stages of inflammation. The printed silk has been made into a collection of saris that on the surface may appear 'simply decorative' but actually represent the internal state of the body at different stages.
Eve Travers is an animator who has used her visual and narrative skills to illustrate a very frank and open conversation with one of the patients about her experiences. Eve has created an absorbing and beautiful story of a young woman coming to terms with the challenges of living with this condition.
IBD is an unusual subject for poetry but Lucy Aphramor used the patient transcripts as an inspiration for writing and performing a set of poems that make us engage with the language of illness and a kind of discomfort with naming and talking about our bodily experiences. In her role as a spoken word poet and 'Radical Dietician' Lucy uses her work to make us confront and talk about the things we prefer to keep hidden.
Nat Jones is a sculptor who uses found and discarded materials throughout her practice to talk to audiences about the impact of consumerism on the environment. In this work consumerism is still evident but in her 'dressing table' work we find the everyday medical and material trappings of IBD hidden within and behind the distracting, decorative and shiny beauty products of everyday femininity. The conflict between social convention and medical intervention is exposed in the private space of the dressing table.
Bhavani Esapathi is a Digital Artist and Founder of Invisible Labs, a Social Innovation Hub for Invisible & Autoimmune Diseases. Bhavani's work is not available for this exhibition.