We Are in Your Space 

Following a three-month process from concept to delivery, visual artist Mohammad Barrangi, assisted by local artist Suzie Cross produced a new mural at Pinderfields Hospital. This was part of the Our Year – Wakefield District 2024 Creativity Around the Corner project in collaboration with Unlimited.

Hear more about the project from Suzie Cross below.

The nature of working as an artist in residence within a business is one of opposites. Staff are usually responsive and delighted to have something exciting happening in their space, something to look forward to with an upcoming artwork and something to natter about over a brew. It’s expected to find someone who is creative in any work environment, willing to have a go and engage, perhaps even sharing stories about their artistic skills or hobbies. In equal measure some may be suspicious or uncomfortable, or simply too busy focused on their work. But working at Pinderfields has been different.

It is the stories and conversations with staff which helps an artwork develop, for an artist to find their muse within the words and emotions expressed through staff sharing a memory, story or from their curiosity. The rich material hides behind the professional exterior, when a person leans into a personal approach. Nobody is watching, yes perhaps recording, but it is in the safety of anonymity, or creative representation, rather than on-screen interviews. It is about what people say when they are not being watched … when the bosses are not watching.

But Pinderfields was different. Engagement was low and it was difficult. We are in your safe space. A space for retreat from a stressful and fast-paced job. A space away from where the ‘cameras’ are always on with patients and families always watching and seeking answers and help.  So trying to engage staff during a moment’s rest and recovery feels intrusive.  It requires a gentle approach and a fast retreat. It’s about measuring responses and listening with intent even when recording is denied. It’s finding the perfect balance between offering and pushing. And knowing when to stop.

It’s not that I don’t think there are creative people working at Pinderfields, there are many. There is creativity in every facet of the workforce in how they overcome challenges, or joke to uplift their spirits, or share information on boards for the public, or organise a celebratory event for colleagues. But the staff room is a sacred space to share moral support with peers, to mourn a moment after a sad experience, to escape the job role just long enough to reset and return light and bright to help more patients and families. And it is the recognition of that intensity in the hospital environment that filters through into the artist’s palette. The endless meaningful interactions are not reserved for members of staff, they are happening all around the building all of the time. Its people helping people and it is real.

As a living and breathing building, operating 24 hours a day, its home to the highest highs and the lowest lows. It has been a privilege to observe, spend time and witness. As an outpatient it is easy to pop in, use it as a service and see people as servers, then leave again. Seeing the hospital as a place of necessity and a place that only houses pain. A place that you’d rather not be. But time spent on this residency has taught me so much more about the folks who work there. The communities they build, the 25 year friendships forged through shared experiences. A dream destination for many migrants working in the healthcare sector with stories to tell about their journeys. The gratitude of patients expressed through notes and cards, a heartfelt ‘thank you’ or a hug in a corridor. The lived experiences of the people who pass through the doors, each on their own journey through life. Those who frequent the fruit and veg stall, the friendly familiar faces greet you at the end of a long shift, accompanied by a sigh and a deep inhale before grabbing something to make dinner. It’s hidden in the miracle stories, the samaritans, the shared human experiences.

If the artworks can capture any of these fleeting thoughts, in a way which holds as much value for the audience as for the shift in perception of the artist, it will tell a new story. A mural which brightens the wall will add pride in location, enhancing wellbeing and transforming concrete to colour. A film will zoom out to show the holistic interplay between the built and natural environment across the vast footprint of the site. Each artwork forming a part of the whole.

Pinderfields cannot be summed up in parts, it is a living and breathing entity which supports life, for visitors, for patients, for volunteers, for staff. Every day is different and every moment offers a profound, transformative and meaningful contribution to our lived experience.