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The power of art in healthcare

On International Women’s Day, we speak to Emirati artist Dana Al Mazrouei on the importance of art in the delivery of a healing environment.

Emirati artist Dana Al Mazrouei was recently commissioned by the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) in London to create a unique art installation for The Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children, which officially opened its doors for patients in October 2019. GOSH has an award-winning arts programme ‘GOSH Arts’, which sits within the Trust’s Built Environment Department. GOSH Arts has managed the art commissions for the Zayed Centre for Research working alongside an Art Group with representatives across the Trust and Charity as well as the design team.

Omnia Health Insights spoke to Al Mazrouei about her experience working on the commissioning project as well as the importance of art in the delivery of a healing environment.

What does art mean to you?

As an artist, I strongly believe that art is a unique platform that enables us to express our thoughts and communicate our own emotions and feelings. It can empower, boost self-esteem and create happiness. Art is powerful. My aspiration for all art is for it to be a strong reminder of how positive energy can be a powerful tool in helping us fight the challenges faced in life.

Can you tell me more about The Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children?

The centre promises to bring together pioneering research and world-leading clinical care to drive new tests, treatments and cures for children with rare and complex diseases. This is going to make such a huge difference in the lives of so many children in the UAE, and all around the world.

As an Emirati, it makes me proud that this state-of-the-art centre was made possible thanks to a £60million gift from Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the wife of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Tell us about your experience art residency at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London?

I was lucky to work with GOSH Arts on this commission, which involved spending time as an artist-in-residence at GOSH to lead a number of creative workshops that explored the theme of genetics with children, young people and their families. Every session was a different creative experience because each child had different expressions and emotions that they wanted to convey through colour.

The residency inspired an artwork for the Zayed Centre for Research called “The Same and Different: 100,000 Genomes”; a series of tactile, circular artworks each representing a visualisation of a genome.

What inspired your artwork “The Same and Different: 100,000 Genomes”?

Each artwork uses the same circular shape with an individual pattern and combination of colours symbolising the similarity but the uniqueness of a human genome. The geometrical form “circle” was used for two reasons. Firstly, a circle is the scientific diagram of reading genomes. Secondly, art development theorists say a circle is a shape that is most familiar to children during their scribbling phase and is a deliberate shape they use to resemble a figure or object.

Can you explain the process involved?

The process involved drop-in sessions with patients. It was a very collaborative experience, in which patients expressed their emotion using “circles” so that we could create a pattern using different colours and sizes of the circle to build one large artwork together to generate positive energy. We also created a sphere using colourful yarn hanging on a tree. 

The interaction with the children through a series of workshops helped me understand their positive outlook and how they translate that into art using the simple form of a circle and colour to express their emotions. Helping the children feel empowered and eager to participate was really the main purpose behind creating this art installation.

Why is art important in healthcare?

Art is a relaxing and inspiring activity for many people. It is also a great platform that enables individuals to express their thoughts, communicate their emotions and deal with their feelings. For these children, dealing with serious medical conditions and spending all their time in a hospital can severely impact their mood and how they see the world.

Given that research has shown that art can have a powerful influence on a person’s well-being and outlook, I’m glad that this whole experience has helped them manage their fears or anxiety. I firmly believe that having such an opportunity as a child and being part of art installations and projects empowers them, helps to foster their self-esteem, and positively impacts their happiness level.

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