Belfast Telegraph

Chronic pain sufferers to paint a picture of their lives at art exhibition

Niamh McConaghy PhD, researcher with Ulster University, who has helped with the exhibition
Niamh McConaghy PhD, researcher with Ulster University, who has helped with the exhibition
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A number of people suffering from lifelong chronic pain will be using a burst of colour through their artwork in an attempt to express what they battle on a daily basis.

An art exhibition titled The Visualisation Of Pain will be hosted by the University of Atypical - a disabled-led arts charity - on Belfast's Royal Avenue from this Thursday.

Those taking part are hoping their expressionist pieces of work will not only help their own mental state but other people going through similar experiences.

Former nurse Jayne Cherry (53) from Saintfield, Co Down has suffered from fibromyalgia and arthritis since she was 17 years old and was forced to give up her old career after the pain became just too much.

After returning to university in her 40s to study art, Ms Cherry felt it was a natural stepping stone from her nursing career.

"In nursing you're observing a person and in art you're observing the world and the people in it so they're quite alike that way," she explained.

"I try to help people with my art if I can but this is the first time I have ever tried to help myself."

Admitting she has never taken part in an art exhibition quite like this, Ms Cherry said she hopes she can help at least one person come to terms with their daily battle against chronic pain through her artwork.

"Art helped me realise things about myself which then helped my pain in the long run," she added. "I think there's a lot to be said for it and if I can help others see that, then that's great."

Julie McGowan (44), from Craigavon, Co Armagh, who is also taking part in the exhibition, is one of the directors at the University of Atypical.

Former nurse Jayne Cherry with her work Pain Is World Wide
Former nurse Jayne Cherry with her work Pain Is World Wide
Julie McGowan with her work Living On A Scale
Niamh McConaghy with Belfast Telegraph journalist Ralph Hewitt

She suffers from a functional neurological disorder, fibromyalgia and arthritis, and was born with deformed feet.

She explained that she has suffered from pain her entire life and it has only gotten progressively worse down the years, but she has found the art exhibition as a great way to "get it out of the system". Ms McGowan said: "It's just constant pain and there's no real escape so with me being an artist as well, I have been trying to combine my practice and physio.

"I find I have to balance myself out so when I'm drawing I find it a very useful exercise."

Using her artwork as a chance to express her pain on a daily basis, Ms McGowan said the project has been a beneficial way to cope with her lifelong battle.

PhD researcher from Ulster University, Niamh McConaghy (26) from Waringstown, Co Down, has been helping to prepare the artists over the last two weeks for the exhibition, which is also being supported by NI Pain Forum and Versus Arthritis.

Explaining how the show came about, Ms McConaghy said that she is ultimately trying to create a new language of pain through people's art as words may not truly express what a person may be going through.

"There's a communication breakdown when people are describing pain because they usually rely on metaphors such as 'it feels like a stabbing pain' but that doesn't include the psychosocial elements like a bad night's sleep or the cold weather which would make their pain worse," she said.

"I am basically trying to find that middle ground and this might be a way of doing that.

"This is a combination of poetry and visual mark-marking in an attempt to communicate such psychosocial elements, as opposed to the traditional numerical pain scales.

"This is just a part of the PhD and further studies are planned."

The Visualisation Of Pain will open on Thursday from 5pm to 7pm and will run until 4pm on Friday, November 29, at the University of Atypical. Entry is free.

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