Dementia Gardens

A botanical artwork adorns the walls of a dementia mental health unit in London conjuring scenes of travel and exploration and celebrating the vast experience of its residents.

By Hospital Rooms

Process Imagery 1 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Memory Garden

Care units are not usually noted for their visual appeal. But one dementia ward in London is different. Artist Sutapa Biswas worked with Hospital Rooms to create an immersive garden mural that referenced the life experiences of the residents.

Process Imagery 8 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Garnet Ward is a dementia and mental health unit

Prior to commencing the project, residents told Hospital Rooms that the environment was ‘not used to its full potential’, ‘ the artwork is boring’ or ‘there is no point to it’, and some rooms had ‘no soul’.

Sutapa Biswas, along with 5 other artists, worked in genuine partnership with the unit’s community to radically change this. 

Process Imagery 16 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms


 Each artist drew on the older residents’ own skills, knowledge and experiences through a series of art workshops, while also referring to existing research in the area of dementia environments. 

Process Imagery 7 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Participation in the creative process demonstrated a transformation in the way older people saw themselves and were seen by staff.

“Now people will see that I am capable of doing something really good!” 
Patient, Garnet Ward 

“I never thought our patients would be able to accomplish this!” 
Staff member, Garnet Ward 

Lumen (2021) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Sutapa Biswas, Lumen, 2021

Sutapa Biswas is an Indian artist who is fascinated by the ways that philosophers, naturalists and scientists group or ‘classify’ living things according to their similarities and differences in the hopes of better understanding our world. 

She is influenced by a wide range of sources including her migration from India to England at the age of four in the aftermath of partition, her studies in the sciences prior to fine art with art history, and her love of literature and poetry.  

Lumen (2021) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Memory also looms large in Biswas' wider practice and her photographic and filmic works shed an unflinching light on the ripple effects of a complex and turbulent past. 

Her latest artwork, a film titled 'Lumen', is a lament for the sights and sounds of India she and her family had to leave behind on their protracted sea voyage to England, while also being an angry reproach of centuries of colonial rule, and its incursions on domestic life.

Process Imagery 18, Sutapa Biswas, 2018, From the collection of: Hospital Rooms
Process Imagery 15, Sutapa Biswas, 2018, From the collection of: Hospital Rooms
Process Imagery 3, Sutapa Biswas, 2018, From the collection of: Hospital Rooms
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Process Imagery 3 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

In responding to the challenging brief of creating an artwork for a dementia unit, Biswas spent time with the residents who would ultimately encounter it. She led accessible painting workshops where people painted, drew and spoke about their recollections of the flora and fauna 

Residents shared stories about the myriad of places they had grown up in, lived in or visited during their lives and indeed in the domestic gardens they had, in some cases, personally tended to.

Process Imagery 17 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Biswas created a lush, imaginary and scientifically impossible garden mural that houses foliage from these various climes around the world.

Through this, she hoped to create a contemplative space and to bring the community’s wealth of experience of the vast outside world into the women’s quiet room at the Garnet Ward. 

Process Imagery 18 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

"This shows people with dementia are creative & imaginative"

Jeremy Corbyn, then Leader of the Labour Party, visited the Garnet Ward

Process Imagery 13 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

“The patients seemed brighter and more fulfilled.“

Staff member, Garnet Ward

Women's Lounge (2017) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Process Imagery 9 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Niamh White, Co-Founder of Hospital Rooms

 "Biswas' use of the garden motif as an anchor for this commission was inspired. Residents were able to share stories of adventures, skills and challenges through botanical references. The resulting abundant verdant scene conveys all the joy and distraction of being in nature." 

Dining Room, Garnet Ward (2017) by Michael O'ReillyHospital Rooms

Other artists participating on this project drew on garden scenes and imagery as inspiration.

Quiet Room (2017) by Aimee ParrottHospital Rooms

Aimee Parrott

Aimee noticed a beautiful garden full of geraniums outside the Garnet Ward. This inspired her mural, which mirrors the qualities of the exterior space. She used locally collected foliage as stencils and spray paint to mimic the effect of dappled light through leaves.

Quiet Room (2017) by Aimee ParrottHospital Rooms

Parrot's mural drew the eye to the garden view outside

'Not only did I witness arts potential as a tool for expression when patients were struggling to verbalise their experiences but also I saw the benefits of creating something completely outside of language.' Aimee Parrott

"The beautiful art is a great talking point."

Staff member, Garnet Ward 

Dining Room, Garnet Ward (2017) by Michael O'ReillyHospital Rooms

Michael O'Reilly

The British painter who works as a scenic artist for the Royal Opera House drew on the experience of his own grandma, who had a diagnosis of dementia. She had been captivated by a stained glass window in the hospital chapel on the Channel Island Jersey.

Dining Room, Garnet Ward (2017) by Michael O'ReillyHospital Rooms

Her eyesight was limited, but she enjoyed the sparkling colours and bold outlines in the design. With this in mind, he designed a painting of a wooded garden scene, which has all the glowing qualities of stained glass.

Women's Lounge (2017) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Seeds of change

By bringing about creative collaboration and facilitating a social environment with rich interactions, this project aimed to affect a radical change agenda in the way elderly care is viewed and delivered.

Process Imagery 6 (2018) by Sutapa BiswasHospital Rooms

Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing,

“We urge NHS England to include the arts in personalised post-diagnostic support for people with dementia.” 

Credits: Story

Hospital Rooms' project at the Garnet Ward, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust was funded by Arts Council England and the Garfield Weston Foundation

Lumen (2021), by Sutapa Biswas. Co-commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art with Art Fund support through the Moving Image Fund for Museums. This programme is made possible thanks to Thomas Dane Gallery and a group of private galleries and individuals. The commission has been additionally supported by Autograph. Supported by Arts Council England. 

Produced by FVU. Producers, Elizabeth Benjamin and Beccy McCray.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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