Remembering the far away

Among the seven artists we commissioned for our project at Garnet Ward, an inpatient unit for older people with dementia and other mental health challenges at Highgate Mental Health Centre, was Sutapa Biswas. Sutapa works in a wide range of media including installation, film and video, drawing and painting. Her influences are also diverse: a love of both literature and science, along with an interest in the myriad ways we talk about and classify living things, and thus reach a better understanding of our world. Sutapa’s work explores gender, identity and desire, and their relation to time and place. A major influence on her work is Sutapa’s migration from India to England, where she has lived since the age of four.

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Reflecting on her practice and influences, Sutapa has said: “Though much time has passed since my journey from the country of my birth to a country that is now my home, the complex relationship that has existed between these two places for centuries now, has given way to a certain poetry that belongs to both of them, which inevitably has consequently entered my psyche. I would also point out that if we as human beings are to be read only as the sum total of the places we inhabit with rigid linearity, then the richness of thought and the poetics of space, time, and experience cannot be fully appreciated. In short, we would either presume too much or too little.

As an artist, the intention of creating is to present works to which the viewer responds on a visceral level; a context within which they are transported to a place somewhere within their own past, and which visually and poetically unsettles perceptions of time and place.”

Sutapa channelled her passion for nature and preoccupation with the presence of distant places in the memory into the work she created for Garnet Ward. To enter the Women’s Quiet Room is to step into a lush and verdant garden, a space that brings the outside in and immerses you in plant life suggestive of climates all around the world. The roots of Sutapa’s mural lie in the conversations she held with a number of Garnet’s residents during her first visits to the ward. Asking for their recollections of places where they had lived or visited, Sutapa heard about domestic gardens from childhoods in different countries, gardens patients had once tended, and exotic flora and fauna encountered on holidays abroad. Sutapa’s mural grew out of these gathered stories, becoming a garden enveloping the Women’s Quiet Room which reflects the community’s wealth of experience and provides a contemplative space for retreat and reminiscence. 

 Sutapa Biswas at work on her mural in the Women’s Quiet Room at Garnet Ward. Photography by Jennifer Moyes

Sutapa Biswas at work on her mural in the Women’s Quiet Room at Garnet Ward. Photography by Jennifer Moyes

 Sutapa’s completed mural in the Women’s Quiet Room at Garnet Ward, with new curtains chosen by ward manager Reid Baboolal to complement the colour scheme of the artwork.

Sutapa’s completed mural in the Women’s Quiet Room at Garnet Ward, with new curtains chosen by ward manager Reid Baboolal to complement the colour scheme of the artwork.

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Following the completion of our project, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, paid a visit to Garnet Ward. He spoke with patients and staff and was given a tour of the artworks our artists had created by Hospital Rooms Chairman and Trustee Eoghan White. Eoghan and Jeremy are pictured here with Joan, a Garnet Ward patient and enthusiastic participant in many of the art workshops we ran on the ward during the course of the project. Part of a beautiful mural created by another of our artists, Aimee Parrott, can be seen in the background.

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“Mental health is a huge crisis that our society should take more seriously and our priority should be to fund the NHS properly. During my visit to the Garnet Ward, I could see how important art and creativity was to the residents and how much the quality of the art was admired. Thank you for all the work that you do.'

The profound benefits of the arts on a person’s sense of wellbeing cannot be underestimated and it was wonderful to see this acknowledged through the vibrant and creative work lining the walls of the Garnet Ward. It was great to hear that the artists sought inspiration from, and worked in collaboration with , the people using the spaces and I enjoyed observing one of the workshops. It was obvious how much pride and sense of achievement many of them felt when showing me their completed works.”

— Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party

Work like this would not be possible without the generosity and support of Hospital Rooms’ friends and donors. With our newly launched Benefactor’s Scheme there are now more ways you can make a contribution and be a part of the work that we do. With your help we can transform more NHS mental health care environments across the UK and give more people the opportunity to be touched and inspired by our unique and radical projects.