Blackbirds express complex degrees of acceptance
Victorian artist Bronwyn Ward is one of 82 artists who have entered Palliative Care Australia’s Life in Death art competition. See the full range of entries here and cast your vote for the People’s Choice award.
Working as a complementary therapist at a hospice in England gave Bronwyn Ward insight into the many ways people approach death.
She treated some people for more than a year, meeting them when they were relatively well and visiting the hospice for day treatment, and treating them as their health deteriorated and during the last 24 hours of life.
She felt fortunate to be providing interventions that were pleasant – such as reiki, clinical aromatherapy, reflexology and massage – to patients, their carers and people who were bereaved.
Bronwyn says these physical therapies sometimes freed patients to express their thoughts and feelings. Some patients had flashbacks to childhood memories, others relieved pent-up emotions in floods of tears. Occasionally people with a stiff upper-lip acknowledged that they were not getting better and it was time to talk with family while they still had the chance.
“I got to see the different emotions people go through, whether that’s denial, shock, or being very angry,” says Bronwyn, who now lives in Victoria.
“And often the patient’s carer is working through all those emotions as well.”
Bronwyn has captured various stages of denial and acceptance in the print, Under the Cedar Limbs, which she created after carving Japanese ply timber, using tiny chisels and a magnifying glass.
She says the piece also draws on a stanza from a poem titled ‘Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird’ by Walter Stevens:
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
“The poem is basically saying the night has come and it is snowing. This is not going to stop happening. This is the path now,” says Bronwyn.
She says the tree trunk in her image represents death, or the end. The extent to which the birds have accepted death increases across the image, with those most in denial on the right.
“The birds are slowly coming across towards the trunk and working through what they need to.
“The bird on the far right is flying. He’s not ready – he doesn’t want to be on a branch of the tree.
“Others are twisted and looking back, not wanting to acknowledge the tree at all. On the bottom far left, the bird is looking up and having a kind of spiritual conversation with themselves: what is going to happen, what’s going to be on the others side, is it something, is it nothing?
“The bird above is looking forward. He has become part of the tree and is looking to death completely resolved with what is going to happen.”
Bronwyn studied visual art at RMIT University, focussing on print making, drawing and sculpture. Her current focus is drawing detailed images of birds and native plants.
- Frail elderly put new pressure on prisons to provide palliative care
- One third of elderly patients receive futile treatment before they die
- Symbolic works created with ink-filled syringe capture life and offer therapy
- The most intimate thing I’ve done in my life: Kylie’s story
- Vicarious trauma: a young nurse shares her experience