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Posted on Nov 18 2022 by Fiona Bailey

A woman being treated for a brain injury says her artwork, which has won a Commended Award within a national arts award programe, has helped give her days “purpose and enjoyment”.

Neelam Baldhe, who has been a patient within the Neuropsychiatry service at St Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton since last year, started participating in art sessions as a way of passing the time at the hospital.

Not only did the 38 year-old start to enjoy the hobby, she chose to enter the Koestler Arts competition, a charity that aims to help prisoners, secure patients and detainees by supporting their art ambitions.

Neelam’s work is one of more than 95 entries into Koestler from St Andrew’s, which also included original songs, cover songs, sculpture, painting, sewing, printmaking, media, drawing, crafts and poetry.

A total of 42 patients won an award and 19 submissions were shortlisted to enter the exhibition at the London Southbank Centre as part of the Koestler exhibition. This year the exhibit was curated by Ai Weiwei, the Chinese contemporary artist, documentarian, and activist.

Neelam’s brightly coloured rice picture of an Elephant was inspired by the Koestler theme of 2022: ‘Taste’ and also her love of the huge wild animals.

Neelam remembered how her mother used food dyes to colour rice in recipes when she was growing up and she used the same approach using coloured ink and white vinegar to create her artwork. The piece took several months to complete.

Neelam said: “The art sessions I take part in are so much fun and they really help pass the time while in hospital. I’ve found that knowing I have an art class gives me purpose and enjoyment to my day.

“I was thrilled to receive a Commended award, it makes me feel like I’m a famous artist somehow and that my artwork is worthy.”

In addition to artwork, Neelam also takes part in pottery classes and adult education sessions.

Before she became unwell, Neelam was a highly skilled pharmacist with a family. But, it was when Neelam started to get regular headaches that doctors started to investigate. A scan showed she had a brain tumour and needed urgent surgery.

Sadly, the injury has meant that Neelam’s body is unable to maintain her sodium levels in the blood so staff at St Andrew’s Healthcare have to carefully monitor her food and liquid intake around the clock, to ensure her levels remain safe.

Alison Williams, Visual Arts Technical Instructor for Arts at St Andrew’s Healthcare, said: “Neelam has been attending art sessions for more than two years, creating all kinds of beautiful pieces and has recently completed an AQA Award for a Mosaic Project.

“But this collage is by far the most colourful work she has created and the first time she has entered Koestler, so we’re very proud of her.

“Neelam’s enthusiasm and passion to engage in art has improved over time and she rarely misses her weekly sessions in the Art Studio. Having her artwork acknowledged has given her – and many other patients of ours – a real boost of confidence and self-worth; it is the highlight of my year handing out the awards and certificates to the individuals that have worked so hard on their creative projects.”

Sally Taylor, Koestler’s Chief Executive, said the work coming out of secure setting is an” immense celebration of artwork”.

The annual Koestler Exhibition has been designed to increase public awareness and understanding of art by people in the criminal or secure care system, ultimately reframing the way members of the public see those people.

The Koestler Arts: Freedom exhibition will on display on Level 1 at Royal Festival Hall within the London Southbank Centres until December 18.