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The Healing Power of Art: Opening the Door for Conversation

The Healing Power of Art: Opening the Door for Conversation

March 03, 2023

The healing power of art has saved Edward Zhao and Gwendoline Ben from the Vancouver winter blues for a decade. During the COVID-19 lockdown people around the world were confined to their homes, often feeling alone with their unrestrained thoughts. As a result of the unprecedented and overwhelming state of the world, many people were experiencing some form of a mental health crisis. Edward and Gwendoline took this time to submerge themselves in art, acting as a shield against the outside world and the inevitable anxieties that paired with the pandemic.

“Whenever I started to paint an idyllic picture on an easel, I would glue my eyes on the piece so intensely that I entered a meditative state,” Edward describes. “The exciting pigment layers on canvas constructed a spiritual space that allowed me to take a breath from the disarray of the outside world.”

Similarly, to Edward, Gwendoline’s mind was put at ease when surrounded by the vibrant colours of Edward’s artwork, particularly in the dark winter months. As a result of seasonal sadness and seeing many people combatting their mental health with light therapy, she had the idea to use colour therapy as a way to battle the inevitable emotions. This observation inspired the couple to host an art event and reach out to as many people possible, ultimately raising awareness of this organic alternative treatment to improve the mental health of others.

Pairing their idea to create awareness around mental health and wanting to better serve their community, the couple decided to give back to their community hospital by granting Burnaby Hospital Foundation the beneficiary to their exhibition. “Burnaby Hospital is the one my family turns to in times of emergency,” Edward explains. “For ten years we’ve never been let down for the friendly, quality services we have received. We are so grateful as Burnaby citizens that we’ve wanted to show our appreciation in one way or another.”

After months of dedicated preparation and lockdown restrictions gradually easing, their vision ultimately began to flourish when partnering with Simon Huang, the first place 2022 Canadian Art Inspiration Student Contest winner.

Like Edward and Gwendoline, Simon shared a similar vision for the event, with the hopes to give people a creative outlet to express their feelings.

“Mental health was an issue that I really felt the impact of. Close friends of mine had some very genuine struggles, but as a community we really lack the knowledge or awareness to offer them support,” he shares. “Especially in Asian families and communities, mental health is even more stigmatized. Our ultimate goal was to initiate conversations, especially in families, about mental health. When planning and designing the exhibition, I had told the team, if a family visits and can have a sincere conversation about mental health on the car ride home, then we’ve succeeded.”

When asked what art means to him Simon shares, “I think art is a language. It’s a way for us to tell stories, share opinions, and ask questions. An exhibition is a conversation between artists and viewers.” Edward continues the thought. “Art is a type of spiritual staple that feeds my soul, helping my spirituality flourish,” he says. “Art in my life plays the role as a loyal companion that introduces artists and critics from the world to me. Together, we share our fresh works and different ideas. For me, you don’t have to be a Van Gogh to appreciate art, all you need is your eyes flooded with curiosity.”

Together through art sale proceeds and donations, the trio raised over $4,250 in support of the new mental health facility included in the Burnaby Hospital Bright Future redevelopment campaign. Not only were young artists able to freely express themselves and open the door for conversation, but now countless members of the Burnaby community and beyond will benefit from the upgraded services provided in the new hospital.

On behalf of Burnaby Hospital Foundation, we would like to extend our deepest appreciation to Edward, Gwendoline and Simon for curating this outstanding event. We would also like to thank Heday, Marissa, and Linda, art studio and school teachers whose student’s artwork was on display. Lastly, the event would not have been possible without Karen and the Montrose Square strata council, who provided the space to hold the exhibition.

To learn more about Burnaby Hospital’s redevelopment, click here.