RGU lecturer visits Zimbabwe as part of Arts in Health project

A Robert Gordon University (RGU) lecturer was one of three local creative professionals who recently visited Aberdeen’s most far-flung twin city, Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, as part of an arts in health project.

Sue Fairburn of RGU’s Gray’s School of Art, Sally Thomson of Grampian Hospitals Art Trust and local writer Dr Shane Strachan, visited the city between the 12th and 18th of November to work with a team of artists and maternal health experts to facilitate a creative exchange between two maternity hospitals in Bulawayo and the National Gallery of Zimbabwe

The overall aim of the visit was to enhance maternal health environments and it came on the back of a play written by Dr Strachan, ‘A Mother’s Journey’, which was performed at the 2015 May Festival and attended by two matrons from Bulawayan maternity hospitals.

Throughout their week they visited both Hospitals and met with Clinical Directors and staff to identify areas of need and explore their understanding of what art can bring to a health environment. They also met with artists, both established Bulawayan artists who are internationally active, and young emergent artists on residency at the Gallery before facilitating a creative demonstration by the artists in the public-gathering areas of the maternity hospitals.

Sue said: “It was a brilliant week and we achieved much more than anticipated or hoped.  Shane, Sally and I had a very productive and enjoyable week of collaborative activities.

“We were particularly pleased to brighten up the Youth Friendly Unit at United United Bulawayo Hospitals, which is composed of grey cabins tucked away behind the main maternity buildings. Hospital staff had expressed concerns that the location and appearance of the unit was discouraging young people from visiting them for sexual health advice and counselling services.

"In order to counteract this, all six of the local artists and hospital staff worked together to create a colourful artwork on the side of one of the cabins using vinyl cut-outs.

“This was the real highlight of the trip, seeing the artists and hospital staff come together to make a difference to the environment in real time through hands-on creative engagement – the youth and the community will immediately see this work and that’s what the project is about.

“The staff have held on to the remaining vinyl and will be encouraging youth users of the service to cut out their own shape and add it to the artwork so that it continues to grow and enhance the environment over time. It’s like participatory graffiti. ”

As a result of their visit, the locals have created a new arts in health collective called #Buka - an Ndebele word which means ‘look at’ - and they will continue to engage with hospitals in the area.

The Aberdeen group hope to support their Bulawayan partners by seeking funding opportunities to expand the art programme further into the wards and buildings of the maternity hospitals. 


Release by Rob Smith
Communications Officer | Design and Technology
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