No one wants to be in the hospital. No one wants to be so sick that they need to be there. No one wants to have someone they care about sick enough to be in the hospital. Let’s say a refuah shleima for all of them!
Minneapolis native and Beth Jacob member Anita White is a talented and accomplished artist who specializes in pen and ink drawings and watercolors. When her husband Richard “Josh” Bialik fell ill and had to be admitted (and re-admitted) to various hospitals around town over the past year-plus, she turned to her art as a therapeutic tool for herself, her husband, and everyone involved in his care. The result is an exhibition at Hennepin Country Medical Center entitled “Drawing Through Crisis with Courage and Humor.”
White turned the stressful hours spent waiting in the emergency room or at Josh’s bedside into a creative and positive experience.
“I took my set of watercolors, some brushes, and papers along with me wherever Josh was being treated and made it into my ‘mobile studio,’” she explained. “There were so many subjects all around me to capture in art; I was never at a loss.”
“Honoring Those Who Helped” is a collage of sorts: a collection of portraits of some dozen hospital employees on the front lines with patients and those behind the scenes whose efforts are vital for the physical and emotional well-being of the hospital community. An emergency room doctor is essential to operate to open a blocked airway; but a kind word from the cashier in the hospital cafeteria who has seen you day after day can make the tedious effort of waiting for hours just a little easier.
“When people saw themselves portrayed in my art, it made a tremendous impression on them,” says White. “It’s more permanent that a photo taken with a cell phone, more personal and permanent.”
Much of the artwork is narrative and expresses many emotions — particularly humor; that’s something much needed in hospital corridors.
How many of us dread hospitalization principally due to the gowns? The “odious hospital gown” is a recurring theme.
Time drags whether you’re lying in the bed or sitting beside it. The helpless clock in “Endless Hospital Time … Endless” struggles to balance the patient in his bed with the inexorable ticking and tocking it’s obliged to do. We laugh while we identify with it.
“Drawing Through Crisis with Courage and Humor” is made possible through HCMC’s Inspire Arts program. Their promotional literature states that “Art serves a very powerful purpose in a healthcare environment. Art helps humanize the healthcare experience, builds personal resources and coping skills, and helps patients use less pain medication and heal faster.”
Apropos, HCMC is displaying White’s work in a corridor adjacent to its Spiritual Center — a non-sectarian space for contemplation or — leaving a prayer at its Prayer Wall! (where did they get that idea?) There is no lack of spirituality in White’s work, and that spirituality hearkens to her grounding in Judaism: In “Oxygen” she visualizes sacred breath; you can almost hear the words “kol ha neshama tihalel ya” (Let all that has breath praise God) rising and falling as the patient takes in the life-sustaining gas, and expels with it the pain and stress caused by his illness
“Through all these times, we realized how precious this Divine Breath is,” White states, recalling when Josh struggled to breathe during one hospital stay.
The words from the Shaharit service prayer that enumerate the miracle of all the body’s parts are included in another painting.
As the Director of the Inspire Arts Program states, “In the face of illness and distress, art provides distraction and comfort. A sterile environment becomes joyful and welcoming. Talents are uncovered. Diverse voices heard. Stress released.”
Anita White’s drawings and paintings are a strong representation of that mission.
If you visit a friend at HCMC, stop by the second floor gallery in the Red Building to see the show. You don’t have to be sick to enjoy it!
“Drawing Through Crisis with Courage and Humor” is on exhibit through Friday, Oct. 13 in the HCMC Red Building, Level 2; 730 S. 8th St., Minneapolis.
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