By Sadef Ali Kully
Jamaica Hospital Medical Center showcased artwork from anonymous patients suffering from mental illnesses to raise awareness and celebrate National Creative Arts Therapy Week by transforming the main lobby of the hospital into an art gallery.
Over 60 pieces of art displayed told a story of realization, discovery, acceptance or a moment of breakthrough. The exhibit included portraits, sketches, collages and illustrations.
The artwork ranged from dark to bright colors, pencil-sketched portraits of fellow patients, rough brush strokes on a path to nowhere, fantastical creatures such as a phoenix rising, and dark black and reds leading to hell, each piece showing the struggle of overcoming their own personal demons.
Creative arts therapists Michelle Anne Hololob and Heather Grey have been working on the art gallery for the last three years.
“It’s about people finally saying I could never talk about my abuse, I can never talk about this, but I can draw it and paint it. That fuels the conversation,” said Hololob, who has been working at the Department of Psychiatry for the last eight years. “For people who cannot tap into any emotions that they have, if you ask them how are you feeling, they don’t have words for you. But they will paint you something that will really show it.”
Patients often begin therapy feeling unhappy, conflicted or isolated, but by creating art they are able to share their feelings, engage with therapists and begin the process of recovery, Hololob. said. One of the pencil sketch portraits of another patient was done by a woman who had a manic attack after a traumatizing divorce, while others drew colorful Mandala circles, a Buddhist and Hindu symbol of the universe.
“There is still a stigma attached to mental illness,” said Heather Grey, a creative arts therapist who has been at Jamaica Hospital for a few years. “We are using art as a platform to disseminate that stigma.”
The Department of Psychiatry and Addiction is chaired by Dr. Seeth Vivek and its vice president, Anthony Maffia, has seen the artwork grow dramatically over the last three years.
Jamaica Hospital Medical Center serves a population of over a million people between Queens and Eastern Brooklyn. It is a 424-bed medical center with a large network of community-based ambulatory care centers. It offers an array of acute inpatient, rehabilitation and mental health services and is one of the busiest Level 1 trauma centers in New York City.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull