By Agnes Tung
A single table leg supported by a medical gauze, catheters and syringes that branch into medical bills folded into roses, and pills that form a back-lit world map highlighting personal dream destinations around the globe.
For six days in July, the gallery space of Sculpture Square at Middle Road was the playground to the hopes, dreams and abstract creativity of chronically ill patients like me from the National University Hospital’s (NUH) Dreamcatchers project. Our canvas? Medical instruments at the centre of our lives and conditions that were turned into 18 featured artworks at the event.
“The exhibition is a showcase of artworks done by the patients themselves. Most of it is constructed using medical equipment that they might use on a daily basis or stuff that you see in the hospitals,” said Benjamin Png, a medical social worker at NUH who has been working with the group for three years.
Project Dreamcatchers, an initiative by NUH, is now in its third year to get patients like me to explore our thoughts and experiences through creative challenges.
The exhibition, the brainchild of Tang Kar Wai from the hospital’s social work department, aimed to raise public awareness and understanding of young adults and young persons with childhood chronic conditions.
But more than public awareness, it was also a chance for me and my peers to succeed at another milestone in our lives. A chance to apply ourselves artistically. A chance to be able to work with others towards a shared goal.
Yet the journey for me and my artwork, as it was for others, from conceptualisation to exhibition was faced with setbacks. My constant travels to the hospital to work on my installation panicked my worried and caring mother, and my journeys required assistance from friends and Kar Wai.
Then, a month after my piece was completed and as I was preparing for a photo shoot with my installation, I had to be warded when I felt an unbearable pain in my knee.
The weakening muscles made me fall. The doctor told me that if I fell again, I would lose the use of my legs forever.
Speaking to me at the event, Dr Teo Cheng Rong, a paediatric resident at the hospital, said that the exhibition showed that children with chronic disabilities and illnesses can be role models for anyone with their strength and determination.
“It was a testament to the success of our healthcare and medical social workers, and the chronic disease programme to better the lives of these children with long-term medical issues,” said Dr Teo, whom I met when I was warded at NUH last year.
He added: “It also gives them the opportunity to express themselves. It was also a very humbling experience when I listened to the thoughts and meaning behind all the beautiful art pieces from these talented individuals.
“I look forward to more splendid things at next year’s Dreamcatchers project.”