Adewale Olakunle Joel is an artist with a passion to use his palette to heal the sick and put smiles on faces of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Working in partnership with the U.S. Consulate, Adewale has held different sessions with children with cancer, sickle cell anaemia, as well as, adults with mental illnesses. He spoke with OMIKO AWA on the therapeutic effects of arts.
What is the relationship between arts and healthcare? At what point do both meet?
There is a strong relationship between art and healthcare, which is yet to be fully tapped into in the country.
Not many people, including some medical professionals, know this.
Sadly, while growing up, I held the notion that art was meant for people of low intelligence quotient, because of this, I considered those in the sciences, as more important than those of us in the art.
The truth is, there is a strong relationship between the arts and healthcare, be it visual, literary or the performing art.
Art often prepares patient for medical procedures and also make them perceive hospitals as nurturing and healing place.
It reduces stress, loneliness, anxiety, pains and strengthens communication between patients and healthcare providers.
Art helps patient to visually express feelings that are too difficult to put in words.
There are increasing evidences that the conspicuous display of visual art works, especially images of nature on the wall, have positive health outcomes on patients or viewers.
Some of the results include, patients shorter stay in hospital, increase pain tolerance and decrease anxiety.
However, the concept is not new, as healthcare professionals, who, before now, are aware of this knowledge, use it.
Art acts as alternative intervention for healing patients in hospitals.
I have held different art sessions with children suffering from cancer, sickle cell anaemia as well as adults with mental illnesses; I can tell you that artworks helped to lift their spirits; it gave them joy and speedy recovery.
Visual arts, music, among other art forms, have therapeutic effect on patients; they help to make administered pills work faster on patients. Arts compliment medicine; it improves patient well-being and decreases negative emotions.
If art is truly therapeutic, why is government not using it in our hospitals?
There is little awareness on the therapeutic use of art in Nigerian hospitals. This is due to lack of research and education.
I also think professional bodies and government agencies are complacent and not doing their best to go the extra mile to incorporate art into their practice.
Art is being integrated as part of holistic care for patients and their caregivers in the United States of America, UK, Canada and Australia.
Nigerian government is yet to explore the full potential of the healing power of arts.
Interesting, I started an initiative called Arts in Medicine Project, which provides art-related workshops and creative engagements for patients, caregivers and healthcare staff.
These engagements include music, drawing, painting, installation and other art forms.
The project recognises the integral role of the arts in healing the spirit and transforming the healthcare of sick persons, including, children and young adults with chronic, terminal and mental illnesses.
Through my organisation, Tender Arts Nigeria, and the support I get from the United States Consulate, we started Arts in Medicine Fellowship in February 2018.
This is an initiative that bridges the gap between healthcare professionals and art practitioners on how to explore the therapeutic power of the arts.
We have more than 100 people signing up for the programme and today, these professionals are using pictorial forms, music, painting, dance, poetry and other creative engagements to help patient find hope happiness and heal sickness in the healthcare system.
In July 2018, I took seven Nigerians to the University of Florida, Gainesville to learn some of the best practices on Arts in Medicine.
There were four medical students and three established artists and art educators among them.
I believe with the practical steps I am taking, Nigerian government and institutions would be inspired to start keying into the therapeutic aspect of the art fully.
How are medical professionals cooperating with you to achieve total good health for patients?
Incorporating art into Nigerian hospitals has really helped me to build positive relationships with patients, caregivers and healthcare providers.
Patients have recovered; got better, while hospital staff have been inspired by the healing powers of the art, by observing our sessions, either by singing to or with patients in the hospitals, performing live music sessions, painting, drawing and installations etc.
Today, I work in about five healthcare centres in Lagos. This is possible, because of the positive feedbacks from patients and their family members, who passed through some of my sessions.
We run the project in five states –– Cross River, Delta, Edo, Lagos and the FCT, Abuja –– in Nigeria and 18 countries in Africa.
As an artist, I see myself as a global citizen and as such, I consider it important to have other African countries experience this innovative approach in their healthcare system and the feedbacks have been phenomenal.
What are the challenges faced?
Some medical professionals still believe that incorporating art into the healthcare system is a waste of time and I think this is due to lack of research, data and education on its healing power.
There is little or no attention given to art in healthcare. A visit to some of our hospitals, especially the big ones, will confirm this.
We have professional artists and medical students who are volunteers in our project in the few healthcare centres we work with.
We are making remarkable progress, but there is a very wide gap between those with little knowledge of the art and us.
Although, the gap is wide, I will not give up on the project and also on education.
Another major challenge is insufficient art supplies and resource persons to facilitate the sessions in various healthcare centres we are currently operating.
We are looking forward to getting musical instruments and more art materials for the patients.
We want these health centres to possess the materials, so that it would not be difficult for their patients to have access to them; to play and work with them at their own conveniences. This may sound impossible; we shall surely get there.
Knowing art’s importance in the health sector, what is your take on the way art is handled at the primary and secondary school levels?
We need to take art subjects more seriously. We need to help pupils and students discover and develop their creative skills.
Let them start applying these skills at tender ages, so that by the time they come of age, they would have garnered much experience.
Art educators need to go beyond the curriculum and make more research on what is globally acceptable and relevant to their society.
This would inspire students to aspire to become great artists in their time; our educators should think outside the box and be creative, while imparting knowledge.
Many parents won’t allow their children to study art in school, because of the way it has been poorly handled and perceived.
Art in Nigerian primary and secondary schools can be better than the way it is now.
Through mentorship, workshops, exhibitions, participation in local and international art programmes, our students can be better and would be able to perform excellently well.
Parents should key into programmes and projects that engage their children’s artistic talents.
It is a rewarding investment. Let us not settle for less, because the children are all gifted and unless we task them, we might not be able to identify any of their gifts.
Aside this, you are also using art to bring peace in war torn areas and the IDP camps, what is the success of this project?
Working with internally displaced persons has been one of my greatest moments as an artist.
I have always dreamt of working in refugee camps and taking art to unknown places aside from interacting with children and youth who are victims of war or natural disaster.
I believe art is a powerful tool to rehabilitate and reintegrate persons affected by terrorism.
Art provides empowerment platform to inspire and shape positive attitudes of persons affected by terrorism to pick up his or her fragmented life and make something beautiful out of it.
I have had the privilege of working with trained professional psychologists to diagnose and identify children who suffer emotional and developmental disorders and we provided therapeutic healing, using art.
The results of working in these places with children, youths and women affected by terror has been tremendous.
We lead survivors towards specific messages of thinking positive, projecting progressive future for themselves and moving beyond emotional to doing something positive.
Here professional artists take children through different techniques of drawing and sketching, as well as other forms.
The result is always good for the recipients and I. It has taught me to show more love to people; to have empathy for those in distress.
Art has created safe space for internally displaced persons and through it, they have found refuge.
How do people see you each time you are with the brush?
Working in the hospitals, healthcare centres and refugee camps as an artist has changed patients’ and caregivers’ perspective about art.
I am an artist, but many people see me as a physician. I am glad that my life is inspiring hope, healing and happiness for some people.
This gives me fulfillment and spurges me to do more to impact on lives.