What’s in your head?
When posed with that question countless images can go through your mind – an office desk piled with projects that need to get done, the Jaguars game that you are looking forward to this weekend, or even something as mundane as the pot roast you are going to have for dinner tonight. When young patients at Wolfson Children’s Hospital were asked the same question, “What’s in your head?” they each answered that question by painting a mask.
The masks painted by those children are now on display at MOCA Jacksonville as part of the Unmasked: Art with a Heart in Healthcare exhibit. Each mask is not a literal representation of the child’s face, but rather an artistic expression of what is going on inside their heads.
Art With a Heart in Healthcare is a nonprofit organization founded fourteen years ago “dedicated to enhancing the healing process of sick children” through art at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, and Ronald McDonald House. For the past five years some of the artwork created by the children has been featured in special MOCA exhibits. Co-founder and Program Director Lori Guadagno reveals that this year’s exhibit was inspired by a National Geographic magazine article about soldiers suffering from blast force trauma and the masks they painted to help illustrate their hidden feelings.
“When I first saw the article it gave me chills, and it took my breath away because it was very powerful and it had very strong images, and I thought it absolutely told their stories perfectly,” says Guadagno. When Guadagno and her team – the program has a number of artists in residence, interns, and volunteers – decided to have the children paint their own masks for the upcoming MOCA exhibit, they wanted to be sure that the children understood that they did not need to stick with the concept of painting a face. “I didn’t want the kids to get lost in the trappings of a nose is a nose, a mouth is a mouth and it has to look like a face,” explains Guadagno. The artists worked with the children individually to help them look beyond the mask and to only perceive it as a canvas on which to tell their own story.
“We gave them examples of what we meant when we asked the question ‘What is in your head?’. . . like think about your favorite place or somewhere that you’d rather be than in the hospital or something that you want to say about yourself out loud to the world. This is a great avenue to tell everyone who you are,” says Guadagno. The results are creative, inspiring, moving, and above all, revealing.
Christy Ponder, the organization’s program developer and volunteer coordinator, gives one example of a mask painted by a child with cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease: “She painted beautiful, healthy lungs, which is what she wanted. That just speaks volumes and tells you exactly what is going on in her head.” Guadagno agrees and adds, “There were a lot of pieces of themselves that came to the surface in this medium.” She then describes another mask made up entirely of jigsaw puzzle pieces with words superimposed over one missing piece that ask, “Are you the missing piece or are you missing a piece?”
Article written by Eva Dasher