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Drawing out obstetric fistula

Blog 20 May 2015

Jac SaorsaArtist Dr Jac Saorsa writes…

Every year between 50,000 to 100,000 women worldwide are affected by obstetric fistula and more than two million women are currently living with untreated obstetric fistula in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

To mark this year’s International Day to End Obstetric Fistula on 23 May, I have partnered with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to launch an art exhibition ‘Drawing out Obstetric Fistula: Exploring the ramifications of maternal birth trauma through art’.

The exhibition is part of an ongoing research project Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula that constitutes an exploration of African women’s experienceobstetric fistula of obstetric fistula through art. The methodological approach to the work reflects that of a similar project, Drawing Women’s Cancer, carried out in Cardiff, UK, which seeks to understand the existential impact of illness on women with gynaecological cancer. As an artist and researcher, the focus of my work is on visualising the experience of illness through a creative ‘act of witness’. I make ‘portraits’ of the individual experience of illness and injury that are based on my own experience of working directly with women who are suffering. In exploring the physical and psychological ramifications of obstetric fistula through working with women who are suffering, with their families, and with the healthcare professionals who are striving to repair ‘damaged bodies’, I hope to raise general awareness and understanding of the condition as well as celebrate the resilience, dignity and courage of the women themselves.

obstetric fistulaAs a trained counsellor I am interested in the way that language is used to express experience, but most importantly, as an artist, I am interested in how the visual language can communicate experiences in situations where convention fails; where there may be no common language, or even words to convey the reality of living with a condition like obstetric fistula. Art becomes here both agent and advocate of patient autonomy through its unique capacity to engage viewers’ subjective sensibilities. It is itself a ‘meta-language’, a form of communication that goes beyond both the verbal and the visual, a ‘voice’ that can communicate across the boundaries of convention and taboo, and articulate suffering so that, in dialogue with the drawings, the viewer is invited to engage with the issues they raise at a profound, intuitive level. I understand my role as going beyond simply documenting experience in an ‘asymmetric relation’ between myself and the ill person, it is rather a complete immersion of my subjectivity into the world of the ‘Other’, where empathy and creativity blurs the boundaries between objective rationalism and the passionate human need to co-exist and share experience.

The art exhibition will be running at the RCOG from 23 May to 5 June or you can view the images on the RCOG website.