Artists

The Healing Arts: Hisham Akira Bharoocha on His Exhibition at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Brooklyn

Installation view, Hisham Akira Bharoocha “Reflections.”

MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER

Although the Brooklyn-based artist and musician Hisham Akira Bharoocha is no stranger to site-specific work, the context of his current visual and sound installation—the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Brooklyn Infusion Center Gallery—is new terrain. It also contains quite a bit of personal resonance. “Since my dad had cancer when I was a kid, it definitely hit a note,” Bharoocha told me at the exhibition’s opening, recalling his reaction when he was asked by Jay Davis, the curator for the center’s Ambulatory Care Arts Program, about making work. “I thought about it rather seriously.” The result is “Reflections,” which consists of a 24-foot-by-11-foot mural installation and a ten-hour sound mix, on view through December 6.

The centerpiece of the “Reflections” mural is a large orange circle that Bharoocha said could be seen as a sunset, a sunrise, a moonrise, or an eclipse. I overheard one security guard tell the artist that it reminded him of a peach. The work references the artist’s own “safe zone images,” which include abstract nature-focused memories of “when the weather is nice and the sun hits the rain and it glows like orange.” In addition to the mural, Bharoocha crafted a sound mix to be piped throughout the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a mix of field recordings and often ambient music that gently undulates as the day moves from morning to night. The artist spoke of attempting to craft a mix that “would not bore the employees” and could slowly morph throughout the day, without ever feeling oppressive.

This kind of tranquil, abstract work—both sonic and visual—is a direct counter to other experiences that Bharoocha has had at hospitals. “I have images of artwork at hospitals where it would just bring me to a bad place,” he said, recounting recollections of work that seemed to tell the patient “you should just look at this picture of seagulls—and there’s a blowing curtain or something—and you’re like, no, that’s not how I feel really.” As a counter to this kind of hospital kitsch, Bharoocha pointed to Brian Eno’s recent installation work at the Montefiore Hospital in Brighton, England, as an inspiration, and said that he had a desire to craft a piece that was “not totally overwhelming, yet still had a vibrant feel, a lively feel” and could relate to the patient’s experience at large.

While his work has been on view, Bharoocha has been visiting with patients. “You know, of course they have a serious face when they’re coming in—they’re doing this serious treatment—but then when I speak to them they all light up,” the artist said, commenting that patients have given the work a good amount of consideration. “One person noticed that there are only two lines that are exactly the same in the piece, and that was such an amazing little discovery,” he continued, speaking of the mural.

Bharoocha’s exhibition is part of a larger regional art program at various outposts of the Sloan Kettering Center helmed by Davis, who is also an accomplished artist in his own right. “Jay is doing a great job of making it art that is contemporary yet can still be in a space like this and sort of create conversations in people’s minds about art and relate it to their life,” Bharoocha said. Davis currently oversees exhibitions at five different Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer centers, a number that will soon be expanding. “At each space, you know, one of the goals of each program is to keep them community based, for instance in Brooklyn, we try to work with artists who are in Brooklyn,” Davis told me over the phone. “We try to keep things really tight and regional.”

That personalized touch is important to Bharoocha, who said that he recently ran into a friend who is undergoing treatment at the center. “He had said he had spent some time with it, because he has been coming in for treatment, and he had a positive experience,” Bharoocha said. “I take [site-specific work] pretty seriously, and I try to make it something that will speak to the people’s minds who are in that space.”

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