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#medicineonthewalls – Part 1: The Project

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

[Part 1 introduces #medicineonthewalls, a project of the intercalated BA in Medical Humanities, and gives a quick summary of what the project has been doing since the arrival of COVID-19 in the UK. Part 2, published tomorrow, will be an interview of a couple of the street artists involved with the most recent wall, 'Apart Together', which was painted in Bristol and Nairobi.]

The UK’s official lockdown began on 23rd March. Everywhere was awash with official public health messages, centring on ‘Stay Home’. medicineonthewalls was just about to begin its second project, thanks to a grant from the Temple Quarter Engagement Fund (@engage_bristol).

This projects looks to explore the potential of street art to spread healthcare messages, help healthcare interventions, and highlight healthcare practice and research. Medicineonthewalls is a form of street Graphic Medicine; it ‘resists the notion of the universal patient’ (Williams), and draws on an increasingly distinctive Bristolian form of civic engagement. Building on a previous partnership with street artists and the PRSC, medicineonthewalls wants to produce the images for three walls through engagement with three different community groups.

With the arrival of a pandemic, ‘community engagement’ was not practical, but there was clearly a lot of healthcare messaging needed. Thanks to a group of Bristol street artists, Ryder (@RAWgalleryuk), Decay, uncredited, 3DOM (@mike22inks) and SEPR (@sepr), and in partnership with Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft, #medicineonthewalls began a series of ‘Stay In’ walls which eventually built into a kind of sentence:

(Some of the thinking behind the choice of ‘Stay In’, its repetition, and the use of the particular wall in Stokes Croft can be found in a piece at The site has some interesting pages gathering together COVID-19 graphic art.)

The walls were popular with passers-by, some of whom work at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, but the idea was to broaden the area of impact. Making a time-lapse film was one way of doing that, and that got picked up by the University of Bristol’s main Twitter account. We also made the walls into digital logos, and made them available free for download.

These worked really well in this form, and the Bristol Post picked up one for the logo for its ‘Stay In’ section, and used another, for a month or so, to tag all of their pages:

They are still (as of 19th June) using another as their Twitter header:

They also ran a small spread on the project. A little later JackArts used them in their #YourSpaceorMine campaign, and they went up on hoardings around Bristol. They put up an interesting piece on the 'hijacking' of billboards to prescribe Graphic Medicine. 

Towards the end of April, it seemed time to focus on to the experience of lockdown, and how different that is for different people and different groups, and where we might want to go from here.

We asked Camille Aubry (@camilleaubrymakes), an illustrator, to design a wall, and she came up with this (painted by Object … (@object000) / Benoit Bennett):

Historic England would later select a photo of ‘Mum’s Wall’ as one of the 100 public images to form its Lockdown archive.

And we got in touch with Msale, a street artist in Nairobi, after having seen his interest in using street art for health messaging featured in The Guardian. We decided to do a piece together, sharing the design process, and then painting it at the same time in Bristol and Nairobi, and trying to share that experience. This produced 'Apart Together':

In the immediate future, the plan is to do more point-of-view walls, and more ‘international’ collaborations. A ‘medical student’ wall is underway. Then, in time, to return to the original project around Bristol-based community engagement.

John Lee, 2020

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