New artwork from Mark Modimola a channel for communication, healing

Art as healing

A growing body of work suggests art is an instrument of healing. In recent years, there have been major art shows focused on wellbeing and trauma awareness, and even governmental reports on the impact of art on health. In one recent British study, art workshops decreased symptoms of mental illness by more than 70%.

“Art can harness the healing power within each of us and help bring us into community with one another. When in front of an artwork, we are connected to the artist and to others who have experienced it,” wrote The Museum of Modern Art’s Associate Educator Jackie Armstrong in 2021.

Modimola agrees that art can heal, and he says healing is even in his blood.

“I come from a family of healers. My mother is a nurse. She taught me most of what I understand about what it means to be a healer. My grandmother is a healer in her own right, and so is my aunt; she is a practicing traditional healer,” said Modimola.

Modimola said both art and healing require a process of communication: “A lot of my work is conversation. It comes from observing what ailment I might recognize in the Black community, what kind of disorder and discomfort might be coming to our people, and I initiate conversations by asking questions, the same way a doctor would ask if your back hurts when you sit.”

‘My work aims to address our access to land which we use to also heal ourselves, land we have been historically denied and displaced from.’

Bridgette Hempstead, a metastatic breast cancer patient and the president of Cierra Sisters, a Seattle-based advocacy organization for African American women with breast cancer, agrees there is a need for conversation — and more.

“We can’t stop advocating, educating, providing tools, calling racism out, reporting what does not feel right when it comes down to the health care of our Black, brown and LGBTQ community members,” Hempstead said. “The reason I say this is, my diagnosis was in 1996, and a lot has happened in 26 years. However, the survival rate has not changed for the Black woman. ‘I Have a Dream’ is not here yet. We’re working for our fair share of survival.”

In his new piece for the Hutch, Modimola expresses how that racism and disenfranchisement has an impact on health.

“My aim with this artwork is to address access to medicine,” said Modimola. “The medical industry can sometimes be prejudiced against giving quality access to treatment and medicine to all groups of society, specifically marginalized people. Looking at where many medicines are sourced, it becomes evident that the land is medicine, not only for our bodies but our spirits. My work aims to address our access to land which we use to also heal ourselves, land we have been historically denied and displaced from.”

Envisioning the future, together

Art can inspire and help us envision the future. Before Modimola created his commission for the Hutch, a series of three dialogues with the community, hosted by the Fred Hutch Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, explored what they hope Modimola’s artwork would envision. The dialogues informed the work he created.

“The discussions were enlightening and grounding. It is comforting to receive confirmation that we share similar struggles, perspectives and aspirations. It was helpful to sit down with Black Americans and understand their observations about our societies and the way forward,” said Modimola.

John Masembe, a patient navigator at Fred Hutch who spoke during the dialogue sessions, hopes the art helps problems become more visible.

“One of the first things I think about is visibility, and creating an open dialogue, stepping into other people’s shoes by allowing them to express themselves. The last thing I’d say is to create a little solidarity,” said Masembe.

Other participants spoke about Black patients being heard in health care.

“I envision health facilities that will treat us like we’re not some alien. I envision a healthy community where a Black person can go to the hospital and the doctor doesn’t ask them ‘Why are you in my hospital?’ I envision that our community will feel like they are heard and not feel like they are silenced, and that they will get the proper treatment,” Hempstead said.

But it’s not only about being heard.

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