Prisoners and nursing home residents communicate through art, Singapore News & Top Stories

SINGAPORE – Detainees in prison and residents of nursing homes live in vastly different worlds, but share a common bond because they are largely separated from the rest of society. Last year however, a few members of the two groups last year got the time to communicate with each other through letters and paintings.

Facilitated by artist Sun Yu Li, five prison staff and nine nursing home residents shared valuable memories with each other through letters and created paintings as a gift for the other.

This happened as part of a new initiative from the non-profit Global Cultural Alliance (GCA). The resulting artworks can currently be seen in the Temenggong House 18/20 art center.

The prisoners, who all have a background in art, were selected by the Yellow Ribbon Project for the program, while the residents of the nursing home, between 60 and 70 years old, were picked up by the house.

The program was aimed at creating a greater awareness of the lives of detainees and the elderly and brought the communities together, said GCA director Phan Ming Yen. He noted that the initiative as a whole is meant to examine the healing properties of art, and in this case the participants have rediscovered a sense of self-worth.

"We do not see much (detainees and nursing home residents) a lot and we do not think much about it, but they also have needs," Mr Phan said.

The program is empowering because it gives their art a sense of purpose, said Mr. Phan. During the more than three-hour art sessions in their respective facilities, participants recorded things or memories that were important to them in magazines. They were then linked to a partner from the other facility and created paintings based on their partner's notes.

In a particularly memorable case, a nursing home resident had tears in her eyes after receiving her painting, Mr. Phan said. She had written about how she wanted to go to the beach, so a prisoner answered a colorful painting of the sea for her.

Mr Sun said prisoners were often eager to find out how the other parties received their artworks. While the artist, who mostly works with images, has worked with GCA before, this was the first time he had worked with detainees and nursing home residents. He said that especially the prisoners made a deep impression on him.

"I was surprised and shocked to know that some of them had been there for over 10 years, they seemed full of hope and interest in the outside world," said Mr. Sun, 70.

"Often it felt like they were just one of my younger friends."

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