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Creative Sessions

From coordinating visits and engagement with a multitude of fascinating exhibitions and artistic activities Catherine has guided the group through a creative journey, expanding the bounds of our interest in medical humanities to incorporate artistic representations of medicine. From the offset, we were given the opportunity to immerse ourselves within the intersection of medicine and artistic expression, many of us attending and then contributing to the Un/stuck: Creative explorations of negative thinking exhibition. This exhibition, co-orchestrated by Catherine, was a collaboration between researchers from the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol, Off The Record (OTR) a young people’s mental health charity and the Mc Pin Foundation for mental health research. Catherine enthusiastically detailed the importance of advocating for the research into and encouragement of artistic responses to disease, namely mental illness, explaining how art acts a tool for both the individual affected, and the researcher in understanding the impact of illness on experience and perception. Fittingly we then responded, via art, to the exhibition, this would be the start of many artistic responses coordinated by Catherine, where she provided not only the materials to express our responses but created an open and creative environment in which some of us who may otherwise shy away from artistic expression felt comfortable and inspired. 

In the lead up to the all-important Medical Humanities exhibition, Catherine continued to nurture the groups sense of artistic inspiration, guiding us around exhibitions in art hotspots in Bristol such as the Arnofini, M-shed and here in the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft. My personal favorite was Bharti Kher: The Body is a Place exhibition in the Arnofini, where left to our own devices the group would have most likely wandered around and chatted, Catherine challenged everyone to engage with the artwork by asking us to draw our interpretation from the themes of embodiment, the biological body and the social body, prompting in depth discussion of these themes, constituting a part of the inspiration for Proud Flesh.

In additional to accompanying us to exhibitions, Catherine also ran interactive art sessions which would take place during our allotted Oakhill Friday afternoons, in the initial session she introduced and explained her role as an art researcher, opening up the discussion as a group to encompass how medical practice and knowledge could be enriched by art by showing us a range of artwork completed by chronically/terminally ill patients. This session was certainly very emotive and thought provoking, laying the foundation of honesty and openness to discussing objectively quite morbid themes. Creating a space for the group which continually facilitated discussions which we would not otherwise have, encouraging us to apply medical humanities content such as cultural representations of illness and phenomenology of illness to representation of illness in art, in turn facilitating the discussions which inspired this exhibition.

For me personally the art sessions with Catherine have been one of the highlights of the course, for many of us art was a separate interest, perhaps even an escape from medicine. However, Catherine has shown us no such division exists, art has a rightful place within medicine and is an inseparable part of how we express and understand responses to everything medical. She has played a fundamental role in encouraging and guiding us on our journey in realising this, and rightly should be accredited as being a foundational source of inspiration for Proud Flesh.

Esme Davison

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