Women express chronic pain through art

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"Art of Endo" workshop organisers, Susan Hey, left and Margaret Kalms.
“Art of Endo” workshop organisers, Susan Hey, left and Margaret Kalms.

HIDDEN feelings of pain, of being misunderstood and any other emotions faced when living with the chronic disease of endometriosis will be showcased through art this weekend.

The exhibition follows a number of “Art of Endo” workshops organised by Margaret Kalms who taught the photography classes and Susan Hey, the facilitator of the painting classes.

During one of the painting classes, Susan showed a woman words that had been written by people living with endometriosis in a previous class.

“When I showed this woman the brainstorming we had done in another class she started to cry because she could see the words on the page and that’s how she felt,” Susan says.

“By the end of the class she was really happy. The crying was around the grief of the woman losing her reproductive parts and not being able to lead the life she wanted to lead.”

The story behind the workshops began with Margaret, a woman who didn’t have the energy to start her art practices until a fibroid was removed in her forties.

“When I heard about the symptoms of endometriosis, I thought that’s like fibroids on steroids,” says Margaret.

“It was appalling that I’d never heard of it even though it affects more than one in 10 women.”

Researchers are even baffled with endometriosis, unaware of the causes, which leaves it hard to diagnose and short of a cure.

Endometriosis is defined as a chronic condition where the endometrial cells lining the womb migrate to other parts of the body. It causes painful bleeding and may also lead to infertility, fatigue as well as bowel and bladder problems.

Before the workshops came to be, Margaret had been working on her art photography project titled “Life with Endometriosis” and Susan had been volunteering at respite painting classes for Alzheimer’s Australia.

When Susan found out about Margaret’s idea to run a workshop for women with endometriosis she offered to help.

Together they applied for an arts residency and ran a crowd fund to gain the money needed for the class space and art supplies.

Margaret says that she wanted to start these classes because it’s easier to talk about something visual as a catalyst for conversation.

The classes and the upcoming exhibition are about raising awareness for the deeply hidden and deeply painful disease that is completely savage.

Sunday painting class with Susay Hey, centre. Photo by Margaret Kalms
Sunday painting class with Susay Hey, centre. Photo by Margaret Kalms

“Some of these women feel disregarded by society. They go from doctor to doctor and sometimes still end up nowhere.”

Some women, Margaret says, undergo multiple surgeries throughout their lives.

“When their insides are inflamed it can rip them apart. Women pass out from pain so it’s not just ‘oh, well, take a painkiller’.

“It’s mindbending what stress it puts on the body. It can be life-threatening.” With art, these women have been able to express the pain that only they know in detail.

Susan who struggles daily to find options for treatment from rheumatoid arthritis says even if it’s two people with the same disease the other person still can’t fully understand.

“Art is my therapy and these classes were meant to be therapy for the woman, too.

“It was a safe place to come and create something, look after that grief and just talk about it.”

“Art of Endo” Workshop Exhibition, Playing Field Studio, 2 Kingsley Street, Civic, 1pm-3pm, Sunday, December 11.

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is the assistant editor of "CityNews".

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