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Throughout 2015 I worked on a project with stroke survivors. This included workshops including creative writing, visual arts, photography and music. I ran the visual arts workshops and also curated exhibitions of the work produced throughout the project at Manchester Central Library and the Manchester Museum. (You can learn more about the background to the project and the first exhibitions I curated here.) This year, I was asked to curate an even larger exhibition of the work produced to be exhibited at the historic Manchester Victoria Baths. Below is my curatorial statement and pictures from the exhibition:

The exhibition was curated around the theme of ‘transformation’. A stroke is a profound and life changing event. It creates challenges, both practical and emotional, that need to be faced and processed by both the survivor and those close to them. A profound transformation has taken place and this is reflected in the artwork produced.

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Responding to the site of Victoria Baths as a space that was traditionally used for health and wellbeing treatments, the theme of transformation was a natural fit. When it came to the presentation of the work I wanted to create a visual metaphor that visitors would physically interact with and understand even before seeing the artwork.

A curtain was an apt symbol for the space because in the Baths people would change from one state to another, from their daytime clothes to swimming costumes, to cleanse and relax. Participants’ portraits were printed large on gauze and hung around the baths. Behind each picture was a banner of their artwork to tell their individual stories of life before and after stroke. Visitors could view beyond the outward appearance of each person by lifting the curtain. From curtains at the hospital, to curtains at home, to the metaphorical curtains we use to hide elements of ourselves from others. Here we were ‘lifting the curtain’ on stroke.

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From the 880 visitors to the exhibition over the weekend we received extremely positive feedback. The interactivity of the exhibition worked to create a physical pause and a longer engagement with each piece than if the work had been immediately accessible. For the participants themselves, it was a culmination of the project, their progress, and an opportunity to see their work professionally mounted in a building of cultural and historic significance. A moment to feel proud of their talents, journey, and accomplishments.

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Throughout 2015 I worked on a project with stroke survivors. I ran a set of visual arts workshops and curated the final exhibitions: one at Manchester Central Library, and the other at Manchester Museum. It was a wonderful experience and I feel privileged to have been through the process to help facilitate some of the workshops and to be able to curate the final exhibitions to help to tell these survivors’ stories.

About the project:

The Stroke Association and The University of Manchester ran creative workshops with 15 stroke survivors across a 9-month period in 2015. These focused on creative writing, visual arts and photography. The interactive workshops brought together stroke survivors, artists, filmmakers, clinicians, researchers and students from the University of Manchester and Salford Royal hospital.

Personal and collective stories of life before and after a stroke are told through the survivors’ artistic interpretations. Many of the survivors were shown the brain scan of their stroke. They were talked through their individual scans by leading stroke consultant, Professor Pippa Tyrell and NIHR Clinician Scientist Dr Adrian Parry-Jones, who explained the areas of the brain that were affected by the stroke and answered any questions they had. This was often an emotional moment and many of the survivors used this experience to create artistic responses and explore their feelings towards the journey from having a stroke to the lives they now live.

The Manchester Central Library exhibition, as part of The Manchester Science Festival, gave a more personal insight into a complex and often devastating condition. It is, however, also to show that there is potential for an enriching and positive life after stroke.

The pop-up exhibition and mask-making workshop at Manchester Museum on World Stroke Day was as a result of a special workshop I led during the project. Participants were given a tour of the Museum’s mask collection then they were given coloured tissue paper, glue and scissors to create masks that would reflect different emotions. Masks were made to represent or cover up emotions and also to promote positive emotions.

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With thanks to the survivors who created these personal and expressive pieces of artwork:

Peter Osbourne, Keila Moore, Peter Wright, Raymond Garner, Paul Edgerton, Mary Davis, Janette Kirkham, Debbie Concagh, Mark Pizey, George Shone, Janet Stoppard, Carol Banks, Ann Williams, Michaela Holden, Graeme Snell

Also many thanks to the other workshop leaders – Caroline Edge for photography, and Janet Rogerson for creative writing. Special thanks to Joyce Booth and the volunteers from the Stroke Association for helping to coordinate and facilitate all of the workshops, and to Dr Stephanie Snow, who has led the project and is using this as research for her work on documenting the History of Stroke.

A video of the project: