Encouraging self-expression through art at Macquarie University Speech and Hearing clinic

Art project
(L-R) Art instructors Romny Vandoros and Vivien Mewing; research participants John Gilberti, Alasdair McLennan and Olegario Gonzalez; Kate Perry; and art instructor Karlene Wilcox.

People with aphasia are learning new ways of self-expression through visual art, thanks to the support of the Macquarie University Speech and Hearing Clinic. In 2016, the clinic’s first Aphasia Art Group, ‘Visual Voices’, was offered following a successful research pilot.

This inspiring initiative was the brainchild of Christine Sheard – a highly respected speech pathologist and aphasia specialist at Macquarie – who understands how difficult and distressing it can be for people who have communication difficulty usually caused by stroke or injury to the brain.

The pilot program was such a success that the three participants in the pilot group, John Gilberti, Alasdair McLennan and Olegario Gonzalez, were commissioned to create an artwork for the Department of Linguistics. The result was an impressive linguistic landscape of thoughtful expression and colour that is on display for all to enjoy.

In September 2016, Stephen Thomson and Henry Chan joined, expanding the group to five people with aphasia. Most of the participants had no previous art experience. With the help of three passionate art instructors and committed speech pathologists and speech pathology students, the group have spent 10 weeks collaborating in the production of a series of artworks. These artworks are in the process of being combined to create one large piece.

Throughout the creative process, participants have enjoyed sharing their opinions on the direction the artwork should take and expressing themselves through their new-found skills in painting, drawing and collage.

“Although we didn’t always know how the art was going to turn out, we trusted the art instructors and were really delighted with the results.” Erin Chalk, Speech Pathologist

The group’s success was founded in the friendships developed and in the authenticity of interactions that allowed members to express genuine ideas, thoughts and feelings. One of the best things about this initiative is that the participants know that they are not alone in their struggle to communicate.

The Aphasia Art Group will continue to meet on Fridays for 10-week programs, with more programs planned for later in the year. New participants with or without a previous interest or experience in art are most welcome.

For more information on the program or joining a group, please contact the Macquarie University Speech and Hearing Clinic on telephone 9850 2900 or email shc@mq.edu.au.