A response to

Watching Cheryl create art…

by Ken Canning

Watching Cheryl create art while we were in quarantine had a profound effect on me. The fact she used the bags our food was delivered in was an amazing idea. The whole process had such a positive effect on me. We had been in the Philippines from November 2019 until May 2021. 

Covid had spread through the world by 2020 and the Philippines went into lockdown in March 2020. Our means of coming home had then been cut off. For 15 months of this period I had been under strict lock down. Even when the lockdown finished in the Philippines, I had to stay under lock down due to my age (over 60’s)

I suffer from a mental health issue, a schizoaffective disorder and this lengthy lock down was detrimental to my illness. There were other major physical medical issues we both had to face, so not being able to get home to Sydney was an ordeal in itself. I could feel myself slipping mentally.

Finally, we were able to come home. We arrived in Sydney on the 14th of May 2021. We were placed straight into quarantine, which initially made me feel even more isolated. Cheryl started using oil pastels she had packed and used our food bags to create some magnificent art pieces. While she was doing this she slipped into her own world. I got into pacing around to alleviate the boredom, but the more Cheryl got into her work the better I felt.

Her artwork had such a soothing effect on me, my state of mind was so very calm. Though she barely spoke her work spoke to me on many levels. I had seen her create works before on many occasions, but this was different. This was creations coming out of a deep need to express herself on recycled materials. The further Cheryl worked the calmer I became. My own transformation was amazing. I had been totally withdrawn in the world I was trapped. As stated, Cheryl’s work spoke to me but in a blazing voice and bought me back into a more normal world.

By the time I got to see my doctor he was amazed at how well I was. I had spoken to him on the phone on our second day there and I know he was worried about my mental health state. I was honest with him and told him it was via Cheryl’s art works that eased my mind. 

Each “canvas” has it’s own story of her own journey and her own perceptions of what we had and were going through. Each piece fascinating in their beauty and the boldness of some of the art. Instead of pacing I now found myself completely at peace within and I started standing where I could watch the whole process. I had viewed Cheryl’s work previously, but this was so very different. There was 2 rooms, Cheryl and myself. Our only contact were the daily check ups by the nursing staff. In this period of isolation her artwork became so much more than brilliant artworks, they became my own road to healing.

I have long thought painting etc is much more than artworks, it transcends the mere canvas. Good art leaps off the canvas and engages the viewer. The healing aspects in such works as Cheryl’s can never be understated. The creations themselves can be one person’s journey to freedom.

In this case Cheryl’s works are aesthetically pleasing, moving and conceptionally brilliant. I have had the honour of viewing her work from close range and feel so fortunate to have done so. Moving away from any bias, I have seen enough artwork in my time to judge good works from average. I am of the opinion Cheryl’s works are exceptional, from the point of view of being easy to look at to making statements that leave a lasting mindset.

About The Author: Ken Canning

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Ken Canning is a Murri activist, writer and poet. His people are from the Kunja Clan of the Bidjara Nation in south west Queensland, Australia. His Bidjara name is Burraga Gutya. Ken has lived in Sydney for over 30 years. He worked as an academic and cultural adviser at the University of Technology Sydney and is currently a support worker at the Judge Rainbow Memorial Fund, where he assists people who have experienced the criminal justice system.

Ken’s poetry has been translated into several languages. His publications include Ngali Ngalga, Breakout Press,1990 and Yimbama, Vagabond Press, 2015. His first major play, 49 Days a Week, was showcased at the Yellamundie National First Peoples Playwriting Festival 2017. He has also written a half-hour film script called Cocky on a Biscuit Tin.