Art is finding an unusual home, in Indian hospitals

  • Amisha Chowbey
  • Updated: May 14, 2016 20:17 IST
The Trees of Life installation at the Medanta hospital, Gurgaon, created by Rajasthani artist Ruchit Tiwari

It isn’t unusual to see visitors clicking photographs in the atrium at the Fortis Hospital in Gurgaon. That’s thanks to artist Jitish Kallat’s huge white sculpture titled Loveable Curious Child – a baby with a stethoscope plugged into the ground, keeping an ear on the pulse of the patients.

Kallat’s work is one among several pieces of art commissioned by the hospital that staff, patients and visitors see as they move around the building.

“Our spaces should make you forget about any pain you’re going through, even if it is for a brief moment,” says Arundhati S Khanna, the architect at Fortis Healthcare Ltd, who strategically places each piece to engage visitors. “We wish to make the hospital more about promoting health and healing, less about sickness,” she says.

The mammoth sculpture, Loveable Curious Child, by Jitish Kallat, at Fortis Hospital Gurgaon

Art on a role

Khanna may not know it, but her words echo those of Florence Nightingale, the lady with the lamp who revolutionised nursing more than a hundred years ago.

In her 1895 book Notes on Nursing, Nightingale said that “variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery.”

About 110 years later, in 2003, a research study said pretty much the same thing: that exposure to visually stimulating and pleasing art reduces the duration of hospital stays for patients, decreases their intake of pain killers, and helps keep their blood pressure and heart rates in check.

All good so far, but what is ‘visually stimulating and pleasing art’? That’s a tricky question to answer.

“The task of putting up artworks on hospital walls needs to be tackled with sensitivity,” says art advisor Ashna Singh of Delhi’s Studio Art gallery, and the brain behind everything you see on the walls of Max Hospitals across the country. Working from the time that the hospital blueprints are finalised, Singh decides themes and displays of installations, closely monitoring the balance of colours.

Works by artists such as Shobha Broota and Binoy Varghese adorn the Max Hospital in Saket, Delhi

While there’s a splash of colour in the reception area of Max Hospital in Saket, where Singh chose to put up works by artists such as Shobha Broota and Binoy Varghese, the corridors are relatively mellow with photographs of different faiths such as the especially assigned Gurudwara series by Munish Khanna.

“Art is not only a means of positive distraction during illness but seeing colours on the walls of a hospitals show have a significant role to play in relaxation

and comfort of visitors,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director at the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare. “We use art therapy for rehabilitation in chronic illnesses and support groups for cancer patients as well.”

Rx: Art

When I was in hospital with a bad viral fever, the photographs on the corridor walls kept my mind off thermometers and throwing up. And at Gurgaon’s multi-specialty hospital Medanta, the sculpture at the entrance is very soothing to relatives of patients.

Titled the Trees of Life or the Mannat (wish fulfilling) Trees and made by Rajasthani artist Ruchur Tiwari, the sandstone structures are 21 feet each in height and stand tall, inviting visitors across religions. On the base of the tree is a beautiful cluster of mauli, the sacred red thread that relatives tie while praying for recovery of their loved ones.

Shoes off and hands folded in prayer, Bhupender Singh has been a regular visitor to the sculpture for a week. “Tying a thread after praying is a practice that is common to all faiths, and a hospital is a place of hope,” he says. “Throughout my brother’s treatment, it has become a ritual for me to come every day and offer my prayers to help him heal.”

Not only is the artwork helpful for the patients but it also touches on the work life of doctors and technicians who work in the stressful environment. “If I go to a room with a painting, I do look at it and appreciate it. It’s not only aesthetic but also has an impact on your behaviour and provides an environment that is not sterile in terms of thought,” says Dr Randhir Sud, chairman of the Medanta Institute of Digestive and Hepatobiliary Sciences. Anything that helps any patient remove emphasis from her or his illness is a huge help.

Democracy Dog, an installation by artist Ved Gupta at the the Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon

“Each hospital has a certain vision of the art they display,” says Khanna. While some hospitals keep funds separate for purchasing artworks, the others populate their walls as the years go by or commission site-specific works to various artists.

Some hospitals even use art to allow their employees bond with the buildings they work in. For example, before the opening of Fortis Gurgaon, the technicians, staff and doctors were invited to send photographs they had clicked so as to make the hospital’s art project a collective initiative. Khanna personally chose photographs, printed them on canvas and put them up throughout the hospital corridors. A great way to begin!

Art is not always used to make significant mental impact in dire times. Sometimes it’s used simply to spread some cheer. One of Singh’s favourite works is the Paediatric ward at Max Hospital in Saket. “In addition to working at the Max in Dehradun, I loved working on this particular wing that is nothing but spreading happiness through vibrant colour,” she says. The audience of children is ultimately harder to please than the adults, making it a challenge in itself.

Fortis, Max and Medanta are the pioneers in recognising art as part of the essence of hospital architecture.

And other hospitals are following suit. Noteworthy are the Artemis Hospital and the Alchemist Hospital, which have a growing collection of artworks. Gradually changing the atmosphere of hospitals by using art is coming to be perceived as a necessity, not just an option. So the next time you’re facing the gloom in a hospital, be sure to take a closer look at the walls.

From HT Brunch, May 15, 2016

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