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Masks of Hope and Healing on display at children's hospital art gallery

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Images of colorful masks that young patients created to express their emotions and tell stories from their journeys of healing and recovery will be on display in the 12th floor art gallery at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital through October.

The exhibition, Masks of Hope and Healing, showcases photographs of masks created by 31 patients at the children’s hospital in 2012.

The children painted their masks from hospital beds, adding titles to describe the emotions behind each stroke and color. Masks painted in hues of blue carry names like “My World of Blues,” while another patient called her colorful mask the “Hope Mask.” One patient covered her mask with algebraic formulas to express the numbers running through her mind as she worked to carry on with her studies, while sick.

According to Lucy Barbera, PhD, a medical art therapist at Golisano, every one of these artists, or patients, was on what can be considered a “hero’s journey” and each had a story to tell. Painting of the masks provided a symbolic way for the artists to tell their stories of pain and healing.

“When they take their art home, the masks serve as a bridge between the patient’s experience in the hospital and home,” said Barbera. “Even though some of them look scary, creating them was liberating because the patients were able to release negative emotions and fears. The masks carry a positive healing message and a record of self.”

Mask-making can be an art therapy tool that offers an alternative form of communication through which the artist can express his or her feelings and experiences. According to Barbera, creating art expands the skills and abilities, re-builds their confidence and self-esteem, and helps patients adapt to new conditions and surroundings. In many cases, painting masks provided the artists with an enjoyable distraction from pain, stress and anxiety, and allowed them the opportunity to confront fears.

For all the patients, the masks created a bridge between their inner feelings and outer expression, giving the viewer glimpses of their brave journeys.