A Creative Journey in Zimbabwe

Between the 12th and 18th of November, I visited Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to work with a team of arts-in-health experts, artists and maternal health experts to facilitate a creative exchange between arts and health organisations with the collective goal of enhancing maternal health environments in the city.

This project was follow up to a play I was commissioned to write in 2015 by Immpact, a global maternal health research initiative based at the University of Aberdeen. The play, A Mother’s Journey’, was performed at the 2015 May Festival and attended by an obstetrician and matron from two Bulawayan maternity hospitals. The obstetrician, Dr Davidzoyashe Makosa of United Bulawayo Hospitals, was impressed by the art work on display in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, and commented on her own efforts to enhance the maternity wards she worked in with visual art. During an exchange visit with Immpact in September 2015, I witnessed the beginnings of Dr Makosa’s artistic enhancement in the Lady Rodwell labour ward and also met with the Mayor of Bulawayo. He was very interested in a potential arts project and felt it would be of much benefit to the hospitals, particularly in maternal health buildings, which are often the last to be renovated and repaired.

On this recent return visit, I was joined by Sue Fairburn of Gray’s School of Art, an expert in design in maternal health environments who previously worked with Immpact, and Sally Thomson, the Director of GHAT, an organisation which has provided art in Northeast hospitals for over 30 years. Throughout the week in Bulawayo, we were hosted by Cliford Zulu of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, and met with arts and health organisations to identify areas of need within Mpilo Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospitals; we then facilitated a creative demonstration by Bulawayo-based artists in the public-gathering areas of the maternity hospitals. This involved the six artists — Owen Maseko, George Masarira, Talent Kapadza, Charles Bhebe, Danisile Ncube and Omega Sibanda  creating new paintings and chalk drawings, as well as inviting staff and patients to have a go at creating their own work with clay and coloured vinyl cuttings.

One of the many highlights was brightening up the Youth Friendly Unit at United Bulawayo Hospitals which is composed of grey cabins tucked away behind the main maternity buildings. Hospital staff 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 artists and hospital staff worked together to create a colourful artwork on the side of one of the cabins using vinyl cut-outs.

As a result of the visit, Cliford and the artists have created a new arts-in-health collective called #Buka, an Ndebele word which means ‘look at’; they will continue to engage with hospitals in Bulawayo, while myself, Sue and Sally continue to support them by seeking funding opportunities to expand the art programme further into the wards and buildings of the maternity hospitals, as well as exploring other potential arts-in-healths links between and within the cities.

I am currently working on a creative document which will capture the dialogues that took place between the artists and health workers, as well as my own creative responses to the beautiful art works created during the project. Check out some of work in the pics below, and keep up to date with further developments by searching #BukaMpilo and #BukaCentral