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“A lot of people might question, “Why theatre?” 

While life drawing has always been part of my practice, when starting this residency the intention was never to make drawings of anyone in the hospital.

I first entered an operating theatre for the purpose of observation. The idea was to find inspiration and take that back to my studio to create artwork. Interestingly, the experience was nothing like I had imagined it would be. I was bracing myself to be bombarded with a lot of ‘grotesque’ images, yet the first experience was so bloodless that I’d seen more blood from a paper cut. That’s really where my fascination with surgery started. As time went on and I was invited to other theatres, I found a lot more to intrigue me. I like to think of the operating theatre as one big body in which everyone has a specified role and so, no matter who they are and regardless of personality, there are no clashes of egos, no conflict or friction. There’s a harmony that is almost surreal; an aspect I find absolutely amazing. 

At some point I started to feel uncomfortable because I had no purpose beyond that of an observer, and I really wished to be a part of that positive energy. The experience of being in theatre was also very difficult to translate into artwork because I couldn’t take back any visual references (photographs or videos) to my studio. Since I had recently started exploring drawing directly on a tablet with a stylus, I thought maybe the only solution was to make digital drawings in situ. With this in mind, I received permission from relevant authorities and patient consent, and returned to the operating theatre in December 2019. 

It changed my theatre experience forever.

The reasons for starting to draw in theatre were very personal, but the effect it had was unanticipated. My interactions with everyone changed. My internal conversations became part of a much larger dialogue—which is why all theatre drawings were created within the chosen setting, and only worked on during operations, not reworked afterwards. I had also not quite realised the power of representational drawing: Everyone can connect with it. 

The theatre became this ‘shared space’. The drawings made in this space became a ‘shared experience’. I felt the work belonged to not just me but to everyone else who had been in those spaces; and hence, should be displayed in a way that everyone could experience it. 

The idea of a public art installation was conceived. Created for Culture Night 2021, it comprised 13 operating theatre drawings and is still up on the Mater Hospital façade on North Circular Road.

However, these drawings make up only a fraction of the body of work. In total there are 121 drawings made between December 2019 and December 2021, during 42 visits to the theatres and over 50 procedures.

The desire to make all the drawings accessible to everyone led to the creation of this website as the final aspect of the residency. It was launched at the end of the residency exhibition ‘Memento Vivere: Navin Hyder at the Mater Hospital’. 

The exhibition gave a general timeline of the residency, and included a display of framed archival prints of a selection of the operating theatre drawings.

‘Memento Vivere’ is the Latin phrase meaning “remember to live”. It seems to embody the very essence of the operating theatre drawings. 

Initially, my focus had been on trying to understand cancer. Eventually I realised the nature of this disease is so oppressive that, when a patient is diagnosed, the very act of telling them they have cancer becomes an act of memento mori*. 

I want these drawings to be a reminder to everyone that the patient isn’t alone in their battle; that each and every one in the operating theatre is fighting for them, with them, so that they can live.

* memento mori, a recurrent theme in art history which means ‘remember that you will die”

Artist Statement: Text
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