Art Saves Lives International is excited to announce its first collaboration and art project with the young residents and staff at Bursledon House Hospital in Southampton, UK. The project was inspired by ASLI’s Charlotte Farhan. She is now leading the project, helped by our talented Artist in Residence, Lisa Reeve.
Bursledon House provides a lifeline to young kids and teenagers with severe, complex and chronic medical problems. Using a caringly structured programme of treatment in a relaxed, non-medical setting, Bursledom House supports, cares for and manages the treatment of its vulnerable young residents (aged 0-16). The NHS-run organisation places paramount importance on residents’ physical, psychological, educational and social needs.
ASLI has been invited by Bursledon House to perform an inclusive and inspirational art project with its young residents. ASLI Artistic Director Charlotte Farhan and ASLI Artist in Residence Lisa Reeve were inspired to perform this project due to their own personal struggles with mental illness. They believe art has played a restorative, vitally important role in helping them manage Borderline Personality Disorder.
For Charlotte, this project is especially close to her heart. At the tender age of fifteen, Charlotte was placed in an adolescent psychiatric unit and attended a residential school in an NHS governed centre similar to Bursledon House. She remembers how scary this chaotic period of her life was for her, and how school was the last thing on her mind.
But institutions like Bursledon House are essential in providing structure and routine for sick and vulnerable young children and adolescents during a difficult, traumatic time of great need. Charlotte found being able to still attend art, English and History classes a real release from her daily treatment. She relished the opportunity to learn these subjects, which provided relief and inspiration, instead of purely focussing on continuously feeling unwell.
This ASLI project promotes holistic creative healing through art therapy. Each child is being encouraged and motivated to produce their very own ‘Personality Portrait’: an abstract style of portrait that reflects the inner core of a person: their energy, vitality and individuality, which forms their root personality, based on experience, fears and desires. Celebrating individuality is especially important for children who have perhaps already identified themselves as “sick children”. Art therapy takes children outside of their comfort zones and transient realities, helping them shape the futures they want.
As a skilled SFX make-up artist and photographer, Lisa is also relishing painting the children’s faces for drama, poetry and dance performances, as the photographs below beautifully illustrate.
The project, lasting several months, is leading to a public exhibition of the children’s personality portraits in July 2014. Charlotte also intends to create a large mural painting at the hospital and Lisa will create a storyboard of photography documenting the entire experience. The exhibition will include talks about the work of Bursledon House and ASLI. We also hope to have a band, spoken word artists and an art auction.
BURSLEDON BLOG: PART ONE
As ASLI artists Charlotte and Lisa arrived at Bursledon House, both were nervous and eager to make a good impression. They first met with one of the teachers, Holly. Her warmth, empathy and enthusiasm instantly made our artists feel at home and welcomed to the Bursledon family.
After meeting most of the staff, including teachers and nurses, the young residents trickled into the classroom to greet Lisa and Charlotte. They played an introduction circle game involving a ball. Charlotte and Lisa, who both share Borderline Personality Disorder, frequently struggle with social situations like this. But in Bursledon’s supportive environment and inspired by the bravery of the young people they met, Charlotte and Lisa were able to quickly overcome these fears and felt very privileged and grateful for the opportunity to be there.
Next, they visited the hemodialysis ward and met an inspirational young girl who was a keen artist herself. Charlotte and Lisa sat with her for a while and discussed her interests. The girl was delighted to hear about Charlotte and Lisa’s reason for being there and how she had an opportunity to create her own portrait. When they mentioned her work would be included in a gallery exhibition, the young girl’s elation was overwhelmingly moving.
As the visit drew to a close, Charlotte and Lisa were sad to leave, but excited to get the next stage of the project underway.
BLOG: PART TWO – THE PROJECT BEGINS!
During Charlotte and Lisa’s subsequent visit to Bursledon House, they explained the concept of a personality portrait, providing examples. Artists have always been fascinated by the concept of creating self-portraits as a means of better understanding themselves – the fusion of the outer and inner self. Our artists stressed to the children that there is no right or wrong when it comes to art. Art is THEIR opportunity for self-expression. Charlotte had also pre-compiled a list of thought-provoking questions to encourage the children to focus on their individuality and inspire them creatively with their own personality portraits:
1. List your 4 favourite colours and any colours you dislike. Ask yourself why you picked these colours?
2. Consider your best and your worst features – and why?
3. How would you describe yourself in two sentences?
4. Who are your idols and what do you admire about them?
5. What is your favourite style? What do you like in design, fashion, décor and graphics, what visually stimulates you?
6. Pick 3 (of each) representing you: animals, places in the world, food and books.
7. What are your passions and hobbies in life?
8. What are your fears and dreams?
9. When was your best day and worst day, what happened?
10. How do you think others see you, and how is it different to how you see yourself?
“In self-portraiture the artist does not have to be concerned about pleasing anyone but him or herself. Self-portraits can allow the artist to be open and receptive to the self, which is an important component of therapeutic growth.”
–Professor Simone Alter-Muri
By now, the children were utterly engaged and very eager to get started. Creativity flowed out of them and their ideas were incredibly powerful.
Finlay (6), the youngest in the group, was movingly frank. When asked why he had drawn a face with tears, he simply answered, “It is because I am very sensitive.” This kind of honesty was refreshing and insightful.
Charlotte sat with a young girl called Bethany (11). Wise beyond her years, Bethany displayed a determination that could take her wherever she wishes to go in the future. She told Charlotte, “I want to draw a light bulb above my head, because I love to think and question things. I love science, I also love art and thunderstorms.”
It’s important when doing this kind of exercise to analyse why we represent ourselves the way we do. Charlotte encouraged these ideas and spoke to Bethany about why she enjoyed these things.
Lisa spoke to a boy called Travis (13). She helped him to identify his own emotions related to the answers he gave on his personality portrait questionnaire. This helped him to generate fresh ideas and use them for artistic inspiration.
The children were also encouraged to produce a piece of creative writing to accompany their portraits during the exhibition. It’s while doing this that they can truly unravel and explore the emotions that form their individual core identities – the human beings behind the masks.
Lisa Reeve is one of ASLI’s first artists in residence. ASLI’s Bursledon House collaboration was her first art residency project and she handled it admirably. This is what Lisa had to say on her experience:
“I am so proud to be working with ASLI. Not only is it a wonderful way to support and inspire a diverse variety of people and children to be creative, art can also help with emotional healing. I myself struggle with social anxiety, among many mental health problems, and using art as a form of self-expression is very therapeutic for me. Art can allow oneself to express turbulent inner emotions that can often be hard, or impossible, to explain in humble words. The children at Bursledon House are such strong, brave, amazing individuals and we are so lucky to have the chance to work with them on creating their own personality portraits. The staff and pupils have welcomed us with open arms and it is inspiring to see how a hospital school operates. The staff at Bursledon House are particularly lovely, caring and open-minded. Helping others is always good therapy for the soul: ‘If you light a lamp for somebody it will also brighten your path.’ (Buddhist quote!) Thank you to ASLI for giving me the opportunity to give opportunities to others.”