A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

The Healing Power of Art

Bhagya Ajaikumar at Ennea, an exhibition of her artwork.

by Bridget Esangga

Inside the Health Care Global Cancer hospital in Bangalore, India, there is a space where patients and their families can step away from the sorrow and pain of illness and contemplate contemporary artwork. The space is called Swasti Gallery, and it is run by SAIC alum Bhagya Ajaikumar (MFA 2004) and her husband BS Ajaikumar. All proceeds from the gallery's sales help pay for care of cancer patients with financial need.

"Swasti was created to help patients have a positive attitude while fighting cancer," says Bhagya. "Each piece of art symbolizes the passage of life, reminding people to have faith and courage in their journey ahead."

While Bhagya was always interested in the arts, she pursued her first college degree in science in India. She earned a BFA from the University of Iowa in 1992 and quickly followed that with her teaching license. During her post-graduate studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and then SAIC, she was inspired by working with professional visiting artists, and decided to start her own international visiting artist program when she returned to India.

"I think my art education helped me to gain confidence and to share what I have learned with others," she says. This has been a really important aspect in my life. I'm always gathering more information so I can share it with my students."

Along with her husband, an oncologist and chairman and CEO of the Health Care Global hospital network, and with the help of her children, Bhagya runs not only her gallery and visiting artist program, but a nongovernmental organization (NGO) with two schools, grades K through 10, for impoverished rural children—where she teaches art—and women empowerment programs that include microcredit programs and vocational training. She also continues to make and exhibit her own artwork.

Bhagya currently teaches post-graduate students at Bangalore University and shares her knowledge and her connections with both her own children and the children in her schools. Two years ago, she hosted SAIC faculty member Deborah Boardman as a visiting artist. Boardman presented workshops for her graduate students. This year Professor David Davison from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston did a workshop with students at the rural school and at the university.

Swasti Gallery

Davison and Boardman also participated in art therapy events with patients and cancer survivors inside Swasti Gallery. Boardman created portraits of survivors that were exhibited in the gallery. Davison held an art show of photography at Swasti and an interactive session with patients in which they share their experiences of living with cancer. These moments are precious to Bhagya.

One day she saw a child who was a patient at the hospital wandering through the gallery, rolling her IV stand along side her with one hand and feeling the artwork with the other. “If the gallery can give the patients a moment of respite,” she says. “Then I think it was worth creating this gallery.”