Capturing chronic illness in pencil and pen

Stephen Mumberson explains how his ‘New Body’ drawings depict the experience of living with a chronic illness

SMumberson_main_staff finalStephen Mumberson, Associate Professor in Painting and Printmaking at Middlesex University, has had his drawings entitled New Body selected to feature in the prestigious OSTEN Biennial of Drawing exhibition. Here he discusses the suffering that chronic illness inflicts – a topic so personally and poignantly explored in New Body – and why his achievement is all the more significant for it.

OSTEN has been a recognisable brand in the field of art, free thought and free creation since 1945. Since broadening its horizons in 1951 to become a journal, the paper has become a hot spot for journalists and cartoonists alike to foster new, creative and modern interpretations of drawings with full artistic freedom.

Today, OSTEN establishes international collections and competitions of drawings and cartoons through the World Gallery of Caricature and the World Gallery of Drawing.

While presenting emerging trends and promising young artists to the world, these exhibitions also award the Grand Prix for lifetime achievement to those who have long permeated their creativity on paper.

The organisation also awards a World Heritage prize for galleries, art centres and major organisations that show, perform or promote cultural activities across the world.

To find out that my drawings had been accepted for the OSTEN Biennial of Drawings exhibition, therefore, felt like a major achievement – and not just for professional reasons, but for personal ones too.

Steve Mumberson Exhibition
Photo by Raul Gonzalez (CC 2.0)

New Body

My work was submitted under the title ‘New Body’ – a series of drawings referencing my experience of living with a chronic illness since the late 1990s.

A chronic illness lives with you, the disease or diseases become the ‘other’, – living and sleeping with you.

It is the unwanted friend turning up at the wrong moment. You cannot escape from it – even on an overseas trip.

It limits your actions, your abilities and ambitions.

Its embodiment is a biological, physical and biochemical entity, a medical fact that acts like a spectre but feels more like an unwanted lodger who has overstayed his or her welcome.

Stephen Mumberson OSTEN exhibition
Stephen’s drawing depicts the experience of living with a chronic illness

This is what I tried to capture in pencil and pen over anatomical diagrams.

Rather than promoting an understanding often portrayed by the healthy and powerful that such illnesses are self-imposed, my drawings deal with the physical day-to-day reality of being in this state of being.

Each day is a battle. This illness is an industry of difficulties that you must be constantly aware of  – let down your guard and the slightest alteration, momentary knock of a limb, slip of a step and the results will be magnified by the underlying condition. Then what to do?

So I continue to take the medication in the mornings in the hope that the efficacy and the magic is strong – that today the pills don’t fail and the illness doesn’t return. Can my body engage in this fight, despite losing its last physical reserve?

Such are the drawings, a document, a recording of impressions and histories of moments when the fragile feelings return and grow.

The announcement of the awards will take place on 22 September 2016 at the OSTEN Gallery in Skopje, Macedonia. 

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