Artists help the elderly create art

Madam Kwan Ah Geok (foreground), 91, and Madam Joan Oliviero, 82, from Econ Healthcare looking at artworks by other nursing home residents.
Madam Kwan Ah Geok (foreground), 91, and Madam Joan Oliviero, 82, from Econ Healthcare looking at artworks by other nursing home residents.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Art wellness project spreads joy of art to nursing home residents

It had been decades since he owned a pair of parrots, but the colourful birds were what nursing home resident David Yew Ah Hwa, 80, chose to model his clay sculptures after.

"They were husband-and-wife parrots," recalled Mr Yew, who has been a resident of All Saints Home in Yishun for over two years.

Mr Yew was among some 100 nursing home residents who created their own art projects with guidance from 10 artists, in a first-of-its-kind art wellness project organised jointly by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) and the National Arts Council (NAC).

Thirty of the residents' artworks, including Mr Yew's clay parrots, were on display at the Sparks! Art Wellness Exhibition, which was opened yesterday at the Raffles City Shopping Centre atrium by President Halimah Yacob.

Mr Yew joined President Halimah onstage as she launched the exhibit, guiding her as she coloured in a paper flower that would complete a mosaic comprising 40 floral art pieces made by residents from the All Saints Home (Yishun Centre) and St Andrew's Nursing Home.

President Halimah then toured the exhibition, which will run till March 18, stopping to chat with each senior about their pieces.

On display were artworks spanning a wide variety of forms, from clay sculptures to photography. There were even portraits painted by seniors using coloured salt.

The art wellness residency was the latest pilot run as part of the AIC Wellness Programme, which aims to improve the quality of life of seniors in nursing homes.

In a speech at the launch, AIC chairman Jennifer Lee highlighted how the arts can have a positive impact on seniors' well-being. "It uplifts their spirits, and makes them feel good about themselves."

For Mr Yew, such benefits included cultivating a greater willingness to socialise.

Ms Jennifer Bordeos, who has been Mr Yew's occupational therapy aide for three years, said: "Before the programme, he wanted only to play mahjong with his friends. But now, Uncle David voluntarily joins in all kinds of activities at the home."

Several participating artists, such as Ms Joanne Lio, 32, and Ms Sarah Zainal, 31, told The Straits Times that they, too, had benefited as much as the nursing home residents from this initiative.

The two artists, who were paired with Mr Yew during the programme, highlighted the unexpected warmth they had received from him and other seniors.

"I felt very welcomed despite it being my first time working with the elderly," said Ms Zainal.

"We would definitely love to participate in more of such projects," added Ms Lio. "The support from all around has been amazing."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2018, with the headline 'Artists help the elderly create art'. Print Edition | Subscribe