Public health brought to light

Dunedin School of Medicine professional practice fellow Francis Kewene at the ‘‘Primary Care Exhibition’’ at the Hocken Library. Photos: Peter McIntosh
Dunedin School of Medicine professional practice fellow Francis Kewene at the ‘‘Primary Care Exhibition’’ at the Hocken Library. Photos: Peter McIntosh
The Anatomy Lesson, by Heather Staka.
The Anatomy Lesson, by Heather Staka.
Seacliff Mental Hospital, by George O’Brien, is part of the ‘‘Primary Care Exhibition’’ at the Hocken Library.
Seacliff Mental Hospital, by George O’Brien, is part of the ‘‘Primary Care Exhibition’’ at the Hocken Library.

Dunedin’s strong tradition in primary healthcare is being celebrated with an exhibition at the Hocken Library. Curator Andrea Bell tells Rebecca Fox about what she found in the collection’s archives.

Photographs, posters, paintings, video, ephemera and archival materials: the Hocken Collections are a mine of works relating to public health.

Curator Andrea Bell has pulled together works on physical, spiritual, mental and public health from the library's varied collections.

''It focuses on different areas such as health promotion, disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment, deinstitutionalisation - thinking about hospitals like Seacliff - mental health, community health and Maori health.''

One of the examples is the late 1990s work of Ava Seymour who photographed state houses around New Zealand, including Dunedin, in her ''Health, Happiness and Housing'' series.

''She travelled around the country photographing state houses and used distorted figures looking at dystopian views of the suburban dream.''

Like Seymour, Bell found the history of state housing very interesting and believed it was still topical today. Although these days state houses were in the news for things like the hysteria around meth contamination, she said.

''It's kind of interesting in terms of it being a public health issue.''

The Hocken also has a lot of material about Seacliff Mental Hospital in its collections so Bell has chosen an 1883 watercolour painting by George O'Brien to illustrate Seacliff's part in the area's health history.

The hospital was, at the time, the largest building in New Zealand and housed a number of well-known people during its time.

A recent acquisition by the library of a 2003 work by Ann Shelton cell (after An Angel At My Table) Seacliff Asylum, North Otago referencing author Janet Frame's time in the institution will also be exhibited.

''This is the building Janet Frame stayed in. As part of a series of work, Ann Shelton was visiting sites in New Zealand's literary and dark history.''

White supremacist and murderer Lionel Terry was also incarcerated at Seacliff and was allowed to paint and write poetry in his own studio while there.

''He's perhaps best known for the crime he committed. He was in Wellington when he murdered a Chinese man. He did it for political reasons - he was against immigration, Asian immigration.''

Works he completed during this time, including a self-portrait, will be on display.

''You can see [by looking at his works] he's living in this real fantasy world. It's quite interesting, yet quite disturbing.''

Another Seacliff connection is Sir Truby King, the medical superintendent of the hospital for 30 years. He lectured in mental health at the University of Otago and, of course, famously established the Karitane Hospitals and Plunket Society.

''There's some material in the show that talks about Karitane nurses and their experiences. The impact of Plunket on child-rearing in New Zealand.''

The Hocken's collection of posters includes many showing aspects of community health over the years.

''It's a real strength of the Hocken. There is a lot of interesting ones about family planning, women's rights, sexual health and also Maori health.''

It also includes posters commissioned by the Department of Health Te Tai Ora in 1990 and the Public Health Commission Rangapu Hauora Tumatani in 1995 to illustrate the four cornerstones of Maori health and wellbeing devised by Emeritus Prof Sir Mason Durie.

The posters were created by artist Robyn Kahukiwa and illustrate taha tinana (physical health), taha wairua (spiritual health), taha whanau (family health) and taha hinengaro (mental health), all of which Sir Mason Durie believed were needed for a balanced and healthy individual.

''Alongside this I'll present a couple of black and white photographs of Mataatua a wharenui that was at Otago Museum for a time.''

The wharenui was originally from Whakatane but it ended up being shown all around the world until it was returned to the town more than 100 years later.

''They talk about it being part of a healing process for the health of their community.''

Bell has also pulled out Eileen Mayo's preliminary sketches for the ''Health Stamps'' and found some old archival photographs of the medical school.

Artist Heather Straka, a former Hodgkins Fellow, who was quite inspired by the medical museum and anatomy laboratories, created a series of works in which she posed characters to match scenes in famous Rembrandt paintings.

''So I wanted to include that as a homage.''

To round out the collection, Bell has also borrowed works from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Dunedin Hospital.

''It's interesting to think about the role of art collections in hospitals. That they are therapeutic.''

One of the hospital's works by Robin White captured the connection between heart and health very well, she said.

''The message is clear: 'your health is your wealth'.''

From DPAG she borrowed a work by American artist Robert Rauschenberg. In the 1991 works he pays tribute to different public figures. The chosen work pays tribute to early HIV researcher Dr Mathilde Krim.

''There is some other material in the show that speaks to HIV and sexual health as well.''

A video work by Simon Denny and Joanna Fadyl, titled Envisaging Vocational Rehabilitation has also been included.

''It looks like you are watching a Powerpoint presentation. It's about rehabilitation and it's quite a corporate aesthetic. Looking at different policies over the years on getting people back into the workforce after an injury or accident.

''It's an interesting element to add to the show.''

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