In 2019 Navin Hyder was invited to be the first artist-in-residence at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin. Hyder’s interest in oncology, in particular cancer operations, led her to the hospital’s operating theatres. There, with patient consent, she went on to develop a large body of work consisting mainly of drawings of live procedures over a two-year period.
Navin Hyder, Mater Transformation, UCD Centre for Precision Surgery, and the staff of Mater Hospital, Dublin, in particular clinical staff from the Department of Surgery.
The aim of the residency was to explore art’s connections to healthcare, and its role in a hospital setting. To facilitate this, the artist was provided with a studio space in the main hospital building, and this created opportunities for conversation and interaction between the artist and clinical staff.
It was also hoped that this project would help to develop the artist-in-residence programme and lead to future initiatives emphasising the role of art and creativity in the wellbeing of the hospital community.
The nature of this residency was organic; no particular approach had been identified beforehand as one that the artist would take. This was probably because both parties – the artist and the hospital – were setting off into unexplored territory.
What had been firmly established by the hospital was that the patient’s interest had to lie at the core of any interaction or intervention; there were strict rules and regulations guarding patient safety, patient privacy and so on. Keeping that in mind, Navin Hyder chose to begin the residency by simply observing from a distance – it was important to minimise interactions until she became familiar with the required etiquette. This is one of the reasons why, when given the opportunity, she chose to visit the operating theatres, where her interaction with patients would be minimal.
Her early pieces in the residency are drawings of cancer specimens that had been resected at the time of the operations. These were abstract in nature, stepping away from the aggressiveness of the subject matter. However, these drawings – made in the closed vicinity of her studio space, along with the books and podcasts reflective of the content she was trying to immerse herself in – were not made directly from experiences but memories of experience i.e. a secondary source. Hyder felt she needed to be present, and the artwork had to be created in situ, for it to be an authentic representation.
She found a solution to this dilemma in her fascination with surgery and proceeded to make representational drawings of the live procedures. These were drawn directly onto a tablet with a stylus, a technique she had started exploring a month into her residency (the sterile nature of the operating theatres required a methodology that was respectful of that environment). These digital drawings were made with patient consent and depict the care administered by the staff towards the patients.
Between December 2019 and December 2021, Hyder made a total of 121 drawings during 42 theatre visits, and observed over 50 procedures.
The artist exhibited some early drawings at Culture Night 2019 as part of the Mater Hospital’s extensive Culture Night initiative. These works were also shared on the Twitter account @Matersurgery.
In May 2020, a video artwork developed from drawings made in the hospital pre-COVID, was launched online.
In March 2021, one of the early drawings was auctioned for NOVAS Women’s Hostel, as part of the Mater’s International Women’s Day fundraiser.
For Culture Night 2021, the artist proposed and realised a public art installation on the main hospital facade, developed using the drawings of live procedures in the hospital’s operating theatres. Following the positive reaction of staff and the public, this installation remains in place.
An end-of-residency exhibition, ‘Memento Vivere’ (Latin for ‘Remember to Live’) was displayed in the original hospital building. The exhibition provided a general timeline of the residency, and included a display of framed archival prints of a selection of the operating theatre drawings. It was open to the public and ran from 1-4 October 2022.
The website navinintheatre.com was launched at the exhibition in order to archive the work for further reference. It also gave some of the staff an opportunity to share their work with their family members around the world.
Prior to the residency, a detailed Memorandum of Understanding was drafted by Mater Transformation. This document set out the responsibilities and terms of arrangement between the artist and the hospital.
Evaluation methods included:
- Conversations between the artist and residency co-ordinators: Siobhan Manning, Service Innovation and Design Lead at Mater Transformation, for the first six months of the residency, and Debbie Killeen, Project Manager, UCD Centre for Precision Surgery, for the entire course of the residency.
- Conversations between the artist and Una Cunningham, Head of Transformation, Mater Hospital, Dublin.
- Informal conversations between the staff and the artist during the artist’s time drawing in the operating theatres.
- Studio visits by Prof. Ronan Cahill, Professor of Surgery, UCD and Consultant Surgeon, Mater Hospital, Dublin.
‘The reasons for starting to draw in theatre were very personal, but the effect it had was unanticipated. My interactions with everyone changed. My internal conversations became part of a much larger dialogue—which is why all theatre drawings were created within the chosen setting, and only worked on during operations, not reworked afterwards. I had also not quite realised the power of representational drawing: Everyone can connect with it.’ – Navin Hyder, artist reflection, part of a longer reflective piece on the archival project website
‘Navin’s been working for the last 2 years in documenting and illustrating and showing the care that happens around the art of surgery. The Mater Hospital redefines itself in the care it gives to the patients and to me this is nowhere more apparent than in theatre where a team of people literally looks after a single person over hours at a very vulnerable time for the patient. It’s great that this most private area of the hospital has been made opened up to the public for them to see this through the work of Navin. These are both still images but also her dynamic pictures really show the movement and action that happened in an operation and it’s really a great credit to Navin that she managed to capture both the care and the action of surgery in this very innovative way.’ – Prof. Ronan Cahill, Consultant Surgeon, Mater Hospital and Professor of Surgery, UCD. This reflection was included in the video created by Mater Hospital’s Clinical Photography Department.
In the same video, Una Cunningham, Head of Transformation at the Mater Hospital, reflects: ‘I think it brings a lovely perspective through the artist’s lens of our work in surgery in the Mater Hospital.’
Documentation and Dissemination
- Progress was documented on the Twitter account @Matersurgery
- Public art installation for Culture Night 2021, still on display on the facade of Mater Hospital’s Whitty Building
- The video made by the Clinical Photography Department is part of a series of videos running on loop on the internal screens of the Whitty Building.
- The exhibition ‘Memento Vivere’ was open to the public from 1-4 October 2022
- The website navinintheatre.com remains online as an archive of the residency
- The artist’s Instagram is a virtual visual diary of her hospital residency
- A video about the art installation is on Mater Hospital’s YouTube account. It can be viewed on https://youtu.be/Nwy67LaWh0Y
- A video made for Culture Night by the hospital’s Clinical Photography Department shows the artist creating an artwork live in the operating theatre, and can be viewed on the Mater Hospital’s YouTube account: https://youtu.be/QhOCUk5OYWc
- One of the theatre drawings was reproduced, under license, to accompany an article in Surgeons Scope, a magazine for RCSI fellows and members, in July 2022.
- ‘Navin Hyder, Artist in Residence at MMUH’: Artist Talk about the hospital residency, April 2022, Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi, Pakistan.
- ‘A Case For Arts and Health’: Panel Discussion with Navin Hyder and Claire Meaney, Director of Réalta, June 2022 , NCAD.
The Artist-in-Residence programme was a partnership between Mater Transformation and the UCD Centre for Precision Surgery, UCD School of Medicine. The residency involved collaboration with Mater Hospital Department of Surgery, Mater Hospital Clinical Photography Department, The Mission at the Mater Hospital, The Pillar Centre for Transformative Healthcare, Mater Estates and Facilities Department, and Mater archivist Helen Madden.
Date of Publication
September 2019 - September 2022
Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin
UCD Centre for Precision Surgery, UCD School of Medicine. Also enabled by Mater Estates and Facilities Department, The Pillar Centre for Transformative Healthcare, Mater Transformation, Mater Hospital, Dublin.
Nature of project
Collaborative/ participatory, Exhibition, Residency