Opening the Western Cape doctors exhibition Nov 09

I really enjoy surprises like this; the ideas that many of us have of Doctors and doctors have of them selves are usually quite severe and unnerving. Ideas about artists? I suppose there are question marks and exclamations marks…. And of art groups, the ideas remain open to interruption! How can we begin to unravel this bundle of contradictions, similarities and projections? I would like to put forward a few clues and ask for some lateral thinking. (added that I enjoy group exhibitions as they give the viewer a chance to see various ways of painting a landscape for example and also for the images to relate to one another. Secondly that group activities like this assist people to interact tin a different way, especially in terms of learning from other work and preparing a show.)

This Initiative was started in 2002 by Peter Nicole and others. Peter had been a member of the S A medical art association for some years; The first show of the WC doctors group was in the foyer of the Kingsbury hospital and now alternates annually between Kingsbury and Constantiaberg hospitals. This year is the 8th exhibition and there are 32 doctors exhibiting. Each Dr./ artist selects the work they want to exhibit; there is no selection committee. There are a variety of media and the practitioners come from a variety of medical specialties’.

20% of sales are donated to Horizon house; this is a home and work place for intellectually disabled adults in Stellenbosch. Last year this exhibition raised R11400 which was matched by Adcock Ingram’s pharmaceuticals who help with printing costs; R22800 was donated in total to this charity. In my experience as a fund raiser this is quite an incredible amount.
So besides working full days in the service of others these doctors make time to be in the service of image making and then choose to donate proceeds to others in need.
They are working in so many currencies; personal income producing activities, health, pleasure, charity….(I noted that there were woodcuts, watercolors, sculptures etc, and how useful it is to change media; really nice that someone made a book for his grand children, writing in verse to accompany the images; if you are a painter to try some printing for example; it changes your way of doing things and helps you to see differently; breaking habits.)

The currency of art or image making is what I would like to explore. Some of the reasons put forward as to why some doctors chose to exhibit their images are, to show the other side of medics activities, to interface with patients and the public in a different way and to interact with one another in a different language, the language of image making.

My experience of Drs. in the art world started when I was a student at the JHB art foundation. Interns and practicing professions joined evening sessions either to work from models or paint various subject matter of their choice. It became evident to me that most Doctors have very well trained eyes; they use them all the time; as you walk into a consulting room they are taking notes with their eyes, in surgery it is their hand eye work that contributes towards a successful operation, etc. I am sure this helps on the golf course too but have wondered why doctors have, in general such illegible hand writing? (Not enough image making which is about visual literacy, I think.) Unfortunately in the various hospitals and care related institutions that I have worked in, OT departments and clinics, I have not been able to persuade many health professionals to join the activities. Imagine if for each CPD point needed, the same amount of images had to be made? Including ones partner in your art making activity is a great idea; perhaps we can have a doctors partners exhibition.

A doctor’s day is prescribed, routine, deliberate, rational and relentless. They are required to unravel mysterious symptoms, determine causes, explain procedures, understand emotions, solve problems, execute decisions, and communicate everything at various levels. An artists day is not so different but a doctor who chooses to take off his/her white coat and step into their best cloths, the ones that are paint stained and un ironed; to put his or her hands into clay or plaster, mix colour, smell turps, saw wood, work in the dark to develop an image, and then clean up afterwards.. these are people looking for something more in their lives, something opposite from what they are good at or different from what is expected from them. They open themselves up to the unknown and start again; to start again having achieved so much, to unlearn and allow for new experiences; to work with images in any medium is about exploring and experimenting, it is on going, infuriating and invigorating. Such courage!
In resent years I have worked with a few highly specialized medical professionals; I would like to describe two wonderful transformations, or experiences that transformed my perception of doctors. The first was during a summer school course I was teaching where I slowly over about an hour suggested different ways of drawing; using the non dominant hand, using a fist, working with both hands simultaneous etc. I increased the volume of music as we progressed and to my great delight and wonderment I turned to find one of the participants dancing as he drew! He was in another world; looking at the model, charcoal in hand and dancing; a doctor!

More recently I was in a sculpture group with among others, two doctors. We all worked quietly and diligently carving into very messy and uninspiring polystyrene. The following week someone joined us in fancy dress; he had surgical gloves on, plastic covering his shoes, a bright orange overall, goggles and some kind of head gear. (This may be a slight exaggeration.) He worked very seriously in his outfit all evening, tried up, swept the floor, packed everything away, took off his fancy dress cloths and there was the doctor!

This image making/ art making experience/ practice is so full of surprises but more than that it requires the art maker to open themselves up to new possibilities thereby giving them greater insight and opportunity to understand others. Yes, it is relaxing, it is a way of distracting oneself from the rigorous, responsible world of medicine but it also awakens the soul, the imagination, it is a life affirming activity.
The story of the forget me not flower comes to mind; when the world was made, and everything was complete and in place, a very little voice was heard from among the beauty which is nature. It said, forget me not; a tiny flower had no color and just wanted to be painted; it was given a soft pink or a soft sky blue. For me this is the voice of our imaginations and of self, with a big s which we should respond to as often as possible.

The work on this exhibition is made in response to this call and I salute you all for giving it time and pleasure. It seems to me that the work here has been made by inquisitive, generous , energetic people who want to share and participate even more than they do in their daily working lives……narrative, gesture, experimentation, discovery, skill, accomplishment, pleasure. There are some really beautiful made and beautifully felt little pieces here; take you time and let them talk to you.

If you like an image, if it talks to you, forget it not, buy it; it may not be a major financial investment but if you hang it in your home it will add to your life everyday.
Congratulations and thank you for including me in this experience.