Each year between 50 000 to 100 000 women worldwide are affected by obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal. The development of obstetric fistula is directly linked to one of the major causes of maternal mortality: obstructed labour.Women who experience obstetric fistula suffer constant incontinence, shame, social segregation and health problems. It is estimated that more than 2 million young women live with untreated obstetric fistula in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. (World Health Organisation)

This project is an exploration of African women’s experience of Obstetric Fistula (OF) through art. The methodology reflects that of a  similar project Drawing Women’s Cancer, which has sought to understand the experience of women with gynaecological cancer in Cardiff, UK. In exploring the physical and psychological ramifications of OF through the experiences of women with the condition,  their families, and the healthcare professionals working in the field, it is hoped that the project will fulfil several aims:

  • To raise awareness of obstetric fistula in low resource countries and in doing so communicate the experience of fistula with new audiences, both within those countries and in the West.
  • To increase current understanding of the experience of women with OF, which may suggest new ways of supporting women during rehabilitation and reintegration following fistula repair.
  • To enhance understanding of the experience of women living with incurable fistula.
  • To host exhibitions of visual and textual work in public venues including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London.
  •  To celebrate the resilience, dignity and courage of women with fistula and the healthcare workers who striving to repair ‘damaged bodies.’

The project artist is Dr Jac Saorsa. As a professional visual artist and researcher with a background in philosophy, Jac has extensive experience in working with clinicians, patients and medical students both in the UK and in the US. Using art practice as a vehicle to understanding the existential experience of illness her work has been successful in increasing understanding and raising awareness of illness and the experience of those affected. As a trained counsellor Jac is interested in the way language is used to explain experience and in creating a visible interpretation of such experiences where there may be no common language or words to convey the reality of living with such ‘dis-ease.’

The focus of my work in the area of art and medicine has become the creation of what I call a ‘meta-language’, a form of communication that goes beyond both the verbal language with which the patient tells her story, and the visual language manifest in the drawings I make that are based on my experience of and response to these stories. The meta-language becomes itself 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 and understand at a profound, intuitive level.

Jac Saorsa, 2014

Email: jacsaorsa@hotmail.com


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