During November 2019, in the outskirts of Addis Ababa, nestled in a hive of activity and laughter, renowned Australian artist Wendy Sharpe created a series of stunning portraits, telling stories of some of the most marginalised women in the world: obstetric fistula survivors. During her visit to Ethiopia, Wendy immersed herself in the daily lives of fistula patients at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and Desta Mender.
The Hamlin Art Exhibition by Wendy Sharpe is now on and features an exclusive showing of over 30 works from Wendy’s recent trip to Ethiopia, where she witnessed firsthand the life-changing work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. The Hamlin Art Exhibition by Wendy Sharpe is based in Barangaroo, Sydney and runs until 13th March, with 100% of proceeds supporting the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation.
An artist’s expedition with a difference
Often described as ‘the painter’s painter’, Wendy Sharpe is acclaimed as one of Australia’s most significant and awarded artists. She has won the Archibald Prize, the Portia Geach Memorial Prize (twice) and the Sulman Prize. Wendy is one of Australia’s pre-eminent creative voices. She has received many major commissions, including being appointed the Australian Official War Artist to East Timor – the first woman to do so since World War II. She has multiple international residences in locations like China, Mexico and Egypt, as well as 57 solo exhibitions.
An ardent supporter of Dr Catherine Hamlin, Wendy adventured to Ethiopia with Team Hamlin in November 2019. There, over three-and-a-half weeks, Wendy explored the Ethiopian countryside, visited Hamlin hospitals and clinics, and spent time with recovering fistula patients. Over many days, Wendy connected with recovering fistula patients at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Her artworks beautifully portray the beginning of their healing process – capturing moments of joy and hope. For the first time, these women realised they are not alone, that they can be cured. One of the great joys of her expedition was the ability to observe and sketch patients – and then proceed to show them her work!
Reflecting on her experience, Wendy said: “I am delighted to have the opportunity to make these portraits to help raise money for the wonderful Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation. It is hard to think of a more worthy cause.”
Healing hearts through handiwork: the Hamlin Model of Care
Desta Mender, which is Amharic for ‘joy village’, is Hamlin’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration Centre where long-term fistula patients with severe injuries can continue to heal. The psychological scars of fistula run deep: many women suffering from obstetric fistula are ostracised by their communities, abandoned by their families and husbands or left to suffer in isolation. The Desta Mender program not only provides counselling and physiotherapy for its patients, it also includes literacy and numeracy classes, and vocational skills training, giving women tools with which, they can rebuild their lives. This is all part of the Hamlin Model of Care which focuses on treating the whole patient through holistic care based on respect and compassion for fistula patients.
At both Desta Mender and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, Wendy was able to sit with patients in the craft room. There, she observed patients sharing jokes, eating sweets and creating handicrafts, such as ceramics, embroidery, and beading. There is a deep healing that takes place in this space: each piece of clay moulded, quilt embroidered, and bead threaded represents another transition into hope and dignity. By working on these handicrafts, patients not only undergo a form of art therapy, patients also gain vital vocational skills which they can gain an income from upon their discharge. The joy, mirth and sense of community that is found at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is beautifully captured in Wendy’s paintings.
Don’t miss out! The Hamlin Art Exhibition by Wendy Sharpe is on until March 13 2020. If you are in Sydney we would love for you to come along to the exhibition. Learn more about the Hamlin Art Exhibition by Wendy Sharpe, including gallery opening times and how to purchase artworks, here.