Art therapy gains ground in Kerala

Artists and musicians extend help in the venture

Art therapy gains ground in Kerala

Healing through fine arts is a concept that continues to inspire medical practitioners across the world.

Six months ahead of the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) – Kerala’s acclaimed festival of contemporary visual arts – promoters of the international festival are taking cue as they extend a healing hand to thousands of patients and create a platform that uses the potential of art therapy. 

The Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF), in partnership with the US-headquartered Cleveland Clinic, has just concluded the 20th show held as a part of its arts and medicine project in Kochi. The promoters say the project that was launched as an “experiment” amid much scepticism has evolved into a popular, powerful expression of care for patients. 

The programme is based in the Government 

General Hospital in Ernakulam where artists and musicians entertain the inmates every Wednesday with one-hour shows. With more artists and musicians coming out in support of the initiative, the foundation is looking at showcasing the project as a perfect run-up to KMB 2014 that’s scheduled to open in December. The KMB is an initiative of the KBF with support from the Government of Kerala. 

The arts and medicine project took shape during the inaugural edition of KMB in 2012 where Dr Iva Fattorini, Chairwoman of the Global Arts and Medicine Institute at Cleveland Clinic, spoke on the pote­ntial of implementing arts and medicine progra­mmes in Indian hospitals. Cleveland Clinic later opened a hospital in Abu Dhabi even as efforts 

toward establishing a partnership based on the Kochi Biennale were on, says Bonny Thomas, KBF trustee and research co-ordinator. 

The initial proposal was pegged to the idea of providing solace to hospital inmates by organising art and music shows. “Though there was no resistance against the intent behind the initiative, there was a lot of scepticism about the potential of localising such a concept here. We were fortunate in having an appreciative district administration and we were on by February this year,” says Thomas.

Dr Fattorini is directing the arts and medicine project that is being supported by the Mehboob Memorial Orchestra named after Mehboob, Kochi’s own legendary vocalist. With the project, the KBF hopes to provide a trigger for more hospitals to incorporate art therapy in their programmes.

The organisers of the arts and medicine shows say that the rise in interest has been palpable over the past couple of months. Prominent playback singers, including Afzal and musicians including Jerry Amaldev, Berny-Ignatius and national award winner Bijibal, have already made appearances in the programme. Most of the musicians perform for free even when they bring along their own team of accompanying artists; the foundation, however, depends on donations and other monetary assistance to arrange the sound systems and pay the orchestra members who perform every week.  

Popular Malayalam film actor Unni Mukundan and acclaimed filmmaker Kamal – director of natio­nal award-winning films including Perumazhakaalam and Celluloid – are among celebrities who have endorsed the initiative and turned up at the weekly event. Kamal, remembering the music therapy sessions he had taken under eminent lyricist and composer Kaithapram Damodaran Namboo­thiri, said the healing power of music was more effe­ctive than words in battling pain. “The programmes have found regular fans and the hospital now has patients – some of them fighting serious ailments – and staff at the venue hours ahead of the show,” says Thomas.

Popular artists, who enthralled visitors during the Biennale’s first edition, have returned to be part of the arts and medicine programme. Australian visual artist Daniel Connell was at the hospital for a week, doing portraits of 38 inmates of the oncology ward by their bedside. The portraits were later displayed at the hospital. Seven artists led by P S Jalaja also did sketches of female inmates in the oncology ward. 

The KBF is also encouraged by the response from other hospitals in the Ernakulam district. Doctors from six hospitals have come forward to be part of the project; now, they double up as singers in these shows. Members of nurses associations came in with their contribution, performing for the hospital inmates on the occasion of Nurses Day. Staff of the Ernakulam Government General Hospital have also been regular performers at the shows. The local chapter of the Indian Medical Association has started sponsoring some of the events. The foundation representatives feel that the project is on course and has seen huge progress considering the humble start it made. 

The foundation is looking ahead with proposals to include other art forms in the project. Plans are on for staging a contemporary play for the inmates. The organisers are planning to bring in variety to the shows and establish new partnerships ahead of KMB 2014. If considered by the Biennale’s curators, the arts and medicine shows could even find their way into the KMB schedule. 

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