Sie sind auf Seite 1von 40

Manipura

Of Flowers and Bones


Meditations on healthcare,
caregiving, and transformation.

A Sculpture Series & Investigation

By Smita Sen

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 1


Manipura
Of Flowers and Bones
A Sculpture Series & Investigation
by Smita Sen

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 2


About the Artist
Smita Sen is a multimedia visual artist. With her background in interaction design, 3D
CAD modeling, and advanced manufacturing, Sen creates hybrid physical-digital
sculptures. She also uses these tools to create vibrant performances. Bridiging vastly
different disciplines, Sen brings together sculpture, dance, opera, and advanced tech-
nologies to examine how the body can both shape and be shaped by its environment.

Sen has shown her work internationally in Dubai, U.A.E., and throughout New York
City, at venues like Anthology Film Archives, the Knockdown Center, ISSUE
Project Room, Heath Gallery, The Sump/Poppers Locarno, and LeRoy Neiman Gallery
(Columbia University). In 2018, Sen was a fellow at the Mildred’s Lane residency. That
same year, she was also the recipient of an Instigator Fellowship from New York
University’s ITP Camp. Sen was a Visiting Artist at the Bard College Disturbance Lab
and has given presentations and workshops at Bard College, Columbia University,
NYU ITP Camp, and LRLX NY. Smita Sen is the Creative Director of Into the Shell, the
first project from Sen Studio, a multimedia studio collaborative of artists and engineers.
In 2019, she will be joining the faculty of Choate Rosemary Hall as Visual Arts Teacher.

In her spare time, Sen enjoys writing. She is the recipient of the Academy of American
Poets College Prize and the Karen Osney Brownstein Writing Prize, and has been pub-
lished by the Academy of American Poets (2016).

Sen graduated Magna Cum Laude from Columbia University (2016) with a BA in the
Visual Arts.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 3


To my mother, brother, and father. We displayed the great depths of
our courage in our darkest days. I love you.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 4


Acknowledgments
This work has been an extraordinary labor of love. I have many people to thank for its
existence. First, I would like to thank each and every one of the contributors whose
moving stories and thoughtful writing make up the foundation of this project. Without
you, this project would not exist. I would like to thank Annie Kopeckỳ, Alethea Ayogu,
and Joe Fitzgerald of Bard College who brought me to the Bard College Disturbance
Lab to present the first iteration of this work. It was with your support that I was able
to breathe life into this project. I must also thank the New York University ITP Camp
community - you gave me this space to explore new terrain in the world of art and
technology.

I cannot say enough about the mentors who encouraged me to continue exploring in
my art the questions that would arise with my father’s illness. Thank you to
Serra Victoria Bothwell-Fels, for your continued guidance in sculpture, performance,
and life. Thank you to my enormous and generous community of friends and family
that cared for us and supported us in the last weeks of my father’s life and in the weeks
that followed. Your love carried us through. Most importantly, thank you to my
mother, brother, and father. We displayed the great depths of our courage in our
darkest days. I love you.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 5


Contents
Introduction 8

Sarah Wolfson 9

Cleo 13

Mona (Omnia) Eldahshoury 16

Monique Williams 18

Maeve Tobin 22

Iliana 25

Vanessa 28

Anna 31

Appendix 35

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 6


“Care is a state in which something does matter; it
is the source of human tenderness.”
― Rollo May, psychologist

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 7


An Introduction viding over 41 hours of care each week
to their loved one (AARP, 7). In my first
perform? How can we offer caregivers the
level of support they need to better assist
experience with demanding, all-hours and advocate for their loved ones?
In the last months of caregiving for my father, I realized that
healthcare is about the dedicated efforts This project, Manipura: Of Flowers and
my father’s life, our family was absorbed of a community of caregivers, nurses, and Bones, is my first attempt to uncover the
in a whirlwind of hospitals, doctors’ visits, doctors in supporting the well-being of a answers to these questions. This project
and at-home caregiving. My father had a patient. Each of us contributed something is an investigation into caregiving. It is an
complex and unusual illness that was not different, but caregivers offer something inquiry into what healthcare looks like
well understood by doctors. With the rap- more than countless hours of strenuous beyond purely professional medicine.
id changes in his health, we were forced to unpaid labor. Caregivers offer those things Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones is a
confront the limits of modern medicine that are difficult to quantify and that often sculpture series interpreting the stories of
and to untangle the complexities of the become essential to a person’s treatment individuals who have firsthand experience
American healthcare system. I found my- and survival: love, affection, compassion, with caregiving. The series includes stories
self asking a very fundamental question: community (Walker, et al., 404; Seppala, et from contributors who have support-
What is healthcare? What does it mean to al., 417-418). ed loved ones through illness; received
‘care’ for the ‘health’ of someone else? care from loved ones; healed their own
As I better understood the role of our physical or emotional trauma; or sim-
I learned to answer this question first as a family’s love in my father’s treatment, ply supported another in a time of great
caregiver. When my mother, my brother, more questions arose. What are the types need. I created 3D-printed sculptures that
and I became my father’s caregivers, every of care that a loved one can provide? What modeled the experiences described in
part of our lives transformed. Caregivers are the types of care that, while essential, each story. These sculptures are created as
occupy a funny place in the American cannot be prescribed? How do we care offerings to the contributors; something
healthcare system. Caregivers make up for ourselves and for each other in times small to honor the work they have done
a significant portion of the healthcare of physical and mental illness? How can for themselves and for others. It is my
system, with approximately 34.2 million we support patients in their efforts to hope that this project will shine a light on
Americans providing unpaid care to an heal themselves? Can anyone be fully our need for softer forms of care. More
adult aged 50 or older in 2015 (AARP, healed? Caregiving itself is strenuous and importantly, I hope this project shines a
6). But the vast majority of these caregiv- is associated with high rates of burnout, light on the importance of caregivers, the
ers, ourselves included, have little to no financial distress, and illness, especially for under-recognized foot soldiers of the
medical training. We found ourselves in women caregivers who are often expected healthcare system.
the 46% of caregivers performing med- to sacrifice their careers to care for elderly
ical and nursing tasks with no training parents (Walker, et al., 405-407; Vitaliano,
whatsoever (AARP, 9). We also found 6; Wakabayashi, et al., 483-484). How
ourselves in the 23% of caregivers pro- can we support caregivers for labor they

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 8


By Sarah Wolfson

My mother was a very


secretive woman. She lived with a number of
illnesses and was very private about herself and
her past. She lost her father while in her teens
and was left to care for her mother who suffered
from debilitating mental illness. Her mother was
often cruel, unkind, and abusive. When it came
time to be a parent herself, my mother made a
choice to be merciful, loving, and completely
unburden-some. She wove a web of enchanting
safety around me, not because she was deter-
mined to be a better & more generous mother
than her own, or because she was afraid that she
would, like her father, depart too soon, but be-
cause she knew that her magical robe of cultural,
culinary, and cosmic delights was how I would
survive all the difficult and heartbreaking things
in life. I have no doubt that my evolution as an
artist and professional musician was firmly nur-
tured by my mother’s world view. At the end of
her life, I was there to care for my Mom and bear
witness to her passing. She was so quiet, often
sleeping, rarely opening her eyes. The only time
she would respond was when I started to sing.
With my daughter by my side, we held her hands
and I sang songs that I knew she treasured.
Without having spoken about it, I knew that
music was a harbor for her. A place of sanctuary
where she could find peace. She was an atheist,
but her spiritual home was music and art. I feel
honored and grateful that she allowed me to be
the conduit to help usher her to whatever does,
or perhaps doesn’t, come after death.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 9


The final song I sang to her was Schubert’s “An
die Musik”:

Thou hallowed art, how oft in darkened hours


When life’s wild orbit circled, choking me,
Hast thou lit up within me love’s warm powers
And borne me up, a better world to see.

Oft has a sigh, from thy harp emanating,


A sweet, a holy chord, come forth from thee,
To ope the heavens with joys worth celebrating.
Thou hallowed art, I thank thee, gratefully.

Notes On The Sculpture From The Artist:


This sculpture is equal parts seashell and a
mother’s embrace. I wanted to create something
that showed how your mother cradled you and
then you came to cradle and care for your moth-
er. I thought it was especially beautiful to know
that you were using your exceptional gift, your
voice, with your mother. It feels like the ultimate
expression of your artistry: to cradle your moth-
er with your music. Having known you as my
voice teacher for so long, I am grateful to share a
new space with you in our journey with music.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 10


Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 11
“She wove a web of
enchanting safety around me, not
because she was determined to be a
better & more generous mother than
her own, or because she was afraid
that she would, like her father, depart
too soon, but because she knew that
her magical robe of cultural, culi-
nary, and cosmic delights was how
I would survive all the difficult and
heartbreaking things in life.”
Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 12
By Cleo*
For a long time I’ve re-
pressed any negative emotions, so much
that I began to forget I really felt any. It
became a habit to quickly get over things
and move on without properly addressing
my feelings. I managed to live well like that
for a long time and thought nothing of this
habit. Even after I suddenly experienced
a traumatic event one night I thought I
should quickly get over it. I thought of the
nightmares, flashbacks, paranoia, insomnia,
and other symptoms of PTSD I experienced
as a passing phase, stubbornly asserting to
myself that I would be back to normal soon.
However the symptoms kept getting worse,
and I could no longer hold my feelings to
myself. I told my roommate and another
friend, however their reactions left me feel-
ing worse, and I regretted saying anything
at all. They made me feel the need to play
it off, and I did, and felt terrible. I thought
I wouldn’t tell anyone ever again, in fear of
a similar experience, but again I couldn’t
hold it in. I decided for the moment to tell
one more person, my best guy friend on
campus.

I was nervous but somehow felt like he


would help me feel better. I called him out
late one night with a vague text about need-
ing to talk. The moment I told him what
happened he pulled me in for a hug, and
gave me words of comfort. He was the first
friend who did not interrogate me, and he
assured me that he would always be there

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 13


for me, even if I needed to call at 3am Notes On The Sculpture
to talk. In that moment I was filled From The Artist:
with so much relief, and was able to I really needed to read this. It’s funny
openly cry to someone else for the first because I created this project with a
time. Because of my habit of ignoring strong, righteous feeling about the
my own emotions, I’ve been more importance of healing, caregiving, and
stubborn than necessary in my heal- alternative medicine. But the truth is
ing process. Fortunately, this friend always softer and more confusing. The
has consistently supported and healed truth requires much more patience.
me by reaching out and reminding me It requires tenderness. When I read
that I am loved as a friend and person. your story I thought about how many
Even just by him asking ‘How are times I’ve brushed aside my own
you?’ and me knowing that he sincere- pain. It almost always snowballed into
ly means it every time has helped heal something more enormous than I
me. Numerous times he has pulled could handle. Having a friend to hear
me out, and prompted me to talk your pain in your darkest moments,
more about where I am in the healing and to accept you fully, is such a gift.
process knowing that I was holding I am grateful for your friend. I am
back. Multiple times he has told me glad that he was there for you, and I
that he cares and wants to help in any am glad that he opened the door to
way, and that I should never think of allowing yourself to recognize your
myself as a burden. Whether it’s to just own strength and humanity.
hang out or to talk until sunrise over
wine about emotions, he has given With the sculpture I created, I cap-
me a place to rest and express myself tured the softness of a flower’s petal
openly. As weird and obvious as this with the structure of a vessel–a soft,
may sound, he has reminded me that I organic vessel to carry your story.
am myself and loved purely for being From above, the sculpture also has the
myself even if I was currently on a shape of a listening ear.
break or not working or just in the
process of healing. In this way, he has
helped me maintain my humanity in a
time I thought I was gone.

*Identity withheld to preserve the


writer’s privacy.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 14


“Fortunately, this
friend has consistently supported
and healed me by reaching out
and reminding me that I am loved
as a friend and person. Even just
by him asking ‘How are you?’
and me knowing that he sincerely
means it every time has helped
heal me.
Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 15
By Mona (Omnia) Eldahshoury
For about two months when I lived in the United States
I worked at an elder people’s home. My duties included changing their
bed sheet, providing their food, cleaning after them and simply playing
activities with them such as bingo, cards etc. It was really nice feeling
needed and wanted. But that wasn’t the point of it. The point was to
give back and assist other people with their lives. At that point in my
life I didn’t need much but I had the ability to give. So I did and that
gave me a sense of fulfillment knowing that I, a silly 13 year old, could
provide for someone else.

Personally, I don’t like to call anything trauma, because I do believe


that everything we go through we can overcome. To me trauma is
more of a word that describes something you can’t heal from. However,
my family unfortunately lost a son back in 2005. I was about 15 years
old. I can’t say I’ve healed per say but I can say that my parents were
hurting very much at that time and I didn’t have time to deal with my
own hurt, so I focused mostly on them. Till this day I assist them as
much as I possibly can by fulfilling both the son and daughter role. I
try to help them financially and emotionally it doesn’t necessarily ‘heal’
them but it makes the healing process a little smoother for them. I
think there’s no such thing as healing from burying your own kid. They
went through trauma that they haven’t overcome and I don’t think they
ever will. I don’t think anyone can ever heal from something like that.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 16


I was able to step into my power when I got a job. I was financially
dependent and able to provide for my parents the way they’ve provid-
ed for me for my entire life. I’m currently doing my masters degree
hoping to teach one day. I think there’s a lot of power in education and
transferring knowledge to people of all ages. So I hope that once I get
my degree I am able to step into a different kind of power outside of
my family.

Notes On The Sculpture From The Artist:


Having known you for a long time now, I have always known you were
a strong, responsible person. This is a part of your story that told me so
much. Yours is the story of a provider, of a strong foundation on which
so many others rely. In the midst of devastating loss and overwhelming
change, you manage to remain a steady source of strength. I wanted
to create a sculpture that captured these aspects of your personality. I
created a flowering plant that grows stronger as it expands with leaves
that are wide and protective from the sun.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 17


By Monique Williams
A child sat inside me, waiting
patiently. She grew up loving words like
empathy and perspective, and books like
How to Kill a Mockingbird (her favorite
character was Boo). She listened well too,
and she got joy from fixing things and solv-
ing problems. She seemed to understand
everyone’s point of view. Growing up in a
broken home can do that. Being confronted
with broken people can do that.

And she was broken too.

The first person she loved that she couldn’t


heal, was her sister. She was older, but
they were like twins. partners in crime.
There was always an easy, unspoken bond
between them. They were different, but
of the same. So, when her sister began to
breakdown, she thought that she could help
her because she understood her. But the
situation only got worse. No matter how
much she listened, how much she talked,
how much she cared, it was like one mo-
ment could diminish it all into thin air.
She once said to her sister, in a moment of
deep sadness and profound hope,
“You know, we... we could be soulmates
instead.” And she believed this to be true.
Her sister responded, “shut up and leave me
alone.” So, she did.
Maybe she didn’t understand.
From that day on, what she did understand
was that family would be her first love, and
her forever heartbreak.

Truly caring for others can easily become a


self-destructive process.

Despite this, she carried her sister’s pain


wherever she went. It was inescapable.
Family was forever. And in her sister, she
saw herself. So, she could never be fully

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 18


okay, knowing that she wasn’t okay.
The first boy that she loved and couldn’t heal, was her friend. He was older, but they
were like reflections. There was a deep, unspoken connection between them. They
were different, but of the same. So, when things started to fall apart, she thought
she could fix it because she understood him. But the situation only got worse. No
matter how much she listened, how much she talked, how much she cared, it was
like one moment could diminish it all into thin air. It was like she was diminishing
into thin air.
One day, before the end, he turned to her and said:
“You make other people’s problems your own, and that’s your problem.”
Even in his accusation, he didn’t seem to realize that ‘people’ included him.

Despite this, he was right. Caring for others is demanding. To care is to understand.
And to understand someone else is to see yourself in that person. Every flaw, every
insecurity, every problem and every self-doubt. The process of caring for someone
else has always required a confronting of self. An awareness of self. A reassuring,
too. And sometimes she went there with them, mentally, physically. She tore herself
apart just so they could see that that they were not alone. just so they knew that
they were understood. In you, I could see me too.

Truly caring for others can easily become a self-sacrificial process. In you, I could
see me, but that’s why I almost lost myself. Tore myself apart, just so I could find
the right piece, the right part. to put you together again. I’m strong enough for the
both us. I have enough love for the both us. I just need to save you, then I can save

myself. But I was wrong. I failed. And I couldn’t find my way back -
I didn’t know where they ended and where I began.

But, you see, in tearing myself apart, what i did find was that little girl inside me
again, still waiting. But this time she was upset. with her sister, her friends, her
family… but mostly with me. She was screaming she was still waiting. Waiting to
be cared for in the way that she cared for. In the way she saw me care for everyone
else. She whispered, “All those times you recognized darkness in them, you thought
about them, you cared for them, you reassured them. But you forgot about me.
What about me?”
“You’re fine. You’re strong. You’ll be okay, you know that.”
But those words weren’t enough. She would no longer wait patiently. No matter
how I tried to calm, placate or soothe. This child was defiant. She wouldn’t be
silenced. So I fought. Soon, after years of dryness, tears came easy. After years of
numbness, feelings came flooding. I couldn’t tell the difference between the dark-
ness and the light. I was lost.

So, eventually, I began to listen.

Truly caring for others hopefully becomes a self-healing process.

Since then, I’ve realized that every time I’ve tried to heal someone, it was because
I saw me or my sister in them. And I subconsciously hoped that by helping to heal
them, I could get closer to healing her, and myself. But the weight of that hope
stretches far beyond any one person. Because no matter how many people I con-

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 19


nected with, no matter how many Notes On The Sculpture
people I loved, my sister only seemed From The Artist:
to get worse. And the realization that This piece has meant more and more
I couldn’t save anyone, that I couldn’t to me as the days pass. In your story,
save her, that people could only, truly I feel like I understand parts of my
save themselves. That realization was story. Listening and learning to heal
a hard one. And it’s one that I still myself has been a journey. Learning
grapple with today. to let go and allow others to heal
So, in the process of truly caring themselves has been an even more
for myself, I never stopped loving, confusing journey. I wasn’t sure what
but I began to love without trying, kind of sculpture to make. While I
thinking, expecting. I let it be. There worked with stories that borrowed
was no more I could do. And it from images of seashells and herbal
seems that in the moments where medicines, for your sculpture I had
we as humans truly recognize our to create something different. Some-
powerlessness, our helplessness and thing strong, like a piece of armor.
complete vulnerability. Our inability Something natural and breakable,
to control. In that moment is where like bones. Something interwoven,
the real healing – the deep caring – where the pieces of others’ stories
exists. in spaces where there is noth- weave into our core. Something that
ing left to say. Or do. So, we pray. I had echoes of metamorphosis, like
prayed. And begged. And prayed. a butterfly. I don’t know if I missed
And cried. And stop praying, just to the pieces of your story that show
start praying again. I understood that the strength and the beauty of your
many things were beyond me, and relationship with your sister. I might
I had to be okay with that. I had to have. It’s hard to make it all read
accept it. Even if they weren’t okay. I visually. But I am also just… I am
had to save myself. really grateful to you for writing this
piece. It’s given me more guidance
A few years later, than I could have anticipated.
my sister wrote me a message.
“I feel like a found my soulmate a
long time ago & I found it in you.”
Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 20
“Truly caring
for others can easily become a
self-sacrificial process.
In you, I could see me, but that’s
why I almost lost myself. Tore
myself apart, just so I could find
the right piece, the right part. to
put you together again. I’m strong
enough for the both us.”
Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 21
By Maeve Tobin
When I brought Leila into the pool
on the first day of summer camp, I imme-
diately had some misgivings. Leila used a
wheelchair and needed someone to hold
on to her in the water. The problem was
that she DID NOT want to go more than
waist deep; she climbed my shoulders and
grabbed onto my hair. This made it much
more awkward (and heavy) to carry her,
and while she tolerated it she didn’t seem to
be having fun. I was pretty apprehensive for
the rest of the summer.

After a few weeks, though, I learned some


things that made her happy: dancing,
listening to people sing “The Wheels on the
Bus” (although recordings of the song made
her cry) and taking my sunglasses off of my

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 22


head and dropping them in the pool (she would
look me in the eyes and laugh when she did
this). Finally one day, while I was singing to her
in the pool, she relaxed and put her shoulders in.

For the rest of the summer we had our routine; I


would hold her by the armpits and walk around
the pool, singing her favorite songs (with some
improvised lyrics) until it was time to get out.

On the outside, not much changed that summer.


She didn’t magically learn to swim or sing along
to her favorite songs. But once we understood
each other, the same activity felt completely
different.

When you care for someone, it’s easy to focus


on the big picture; helping a child grow up,
someone with an illness or disability to live more
independently, and older or ill person die with
dignity. I learned that it’s also important to focus
on the person in front of you in that moment,
and the small things you can achieve. It’s the
small things that push you to keep going.

Notes On The Sculpture From The Artist:


I am so glad you shared this story. We’ve talked
about healing, education, and working with
Special Needs children in the past, but to read
your experiences in detail is very special. It’s
in the details that your relationship with Leila
shines most brightly. When you were taking care
of Leila, you became attuned to her needs, her
communication style, her likes, her dislikes. On
the surface, the routine seems unchanging. But
there’s something really delicate and heartwarm-
ing about the image of you holding Leila and
walking with her around the edge of the pool.
The two of you carved a simple space in which
you could both communicate, a space formed
by your knowing her favorite songs, and her
appreciating your singing even as you occasion-
ally made up the words. I created a sculpture
that, like your relationship, on the outside, looks
simple and unchanging, but on the inside, grows
and transforms in the most subtle of ways.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 23


“On the outside, not
much changed that summer.
She didn’t magically learn
to swim or sing along to her
favorite songs. But once we
understood each other, the
same activity felt completely
different.”
Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 24
By Iliana
On a hot July day, I got
several phone calls from family members
describing a series of traumatic incidents
associated with my brother’s poor mental
health. I was set to support from afar, but
when I heard my dad crying on the phone,
I knew it was time to move across the coun-
try and take care of my family. I resigned
from my position, found someone to rent
my apartment, packed my belongings, and
flew back to California - all in less than a
week. Most of my life I have tried not to
depend on anyone. But for the first time in
my life, I was surrounded by friends and
coworkers who wanted to care for me in
this stressful time. Whether it was bringing
me takeout, storing my things, having late
night conversations, holding space for me
to cry, providing me with intentional ener-
getic healing, sending me loving messages,
or sending me care packages, they had my
back. I had never felt such gratitude in my
life. I knew this wave of energy was a reflec-
tion of the care I had put into my relation-
ships. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized
how much I loved everyone. And, because
the Universe is a mirror, I finally realized
how much I loved and valued myself. I will
forever be grateful for that time in my life
and will continue to nurture reciprocal
relationships.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 25


Notes On The Sculpture From The Artist:
You are filled with so much love, Iliana.
I’m not just saying this as a friend. You
are truly, truly loving. I wanted to create a
sculpture that showed the strength of your
loving energy. I used the image of skullcap
flower as inspiration, then worked with
images of the Pietà to make the lip of the
flower seem like the bed of your arms. As
you care for others and as you stepped in to
care for your brother, I wanted you to have
a flower that would be a mirror of your
strength, beauty, and love. Thank you for
sharing this with me.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 26


“I knew it was time to “Most of my life
move across the country and I have tried not to depend on
take care of my family. I re- anyone. But for the first time
signed from my position, found in my life, I was surrounded
someone to rent my apartment, by friends and coworkers who
packed my belongings, and flew wanted to care for me in this
back to California - all in less stressful time.”
than a week. .”

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 27


By Vanessa
I’m not sure if trauma can ever
be fully healed. Sometimes I think the heal-
ing process is just learning how to manage
the pain. I’m no stranger to piecing myself
back together after dealing with great pain,
it’s something I’ve had to learn early on in
order to survive. I always had trust in my-
self and the healing process. But nearly two
years ago my trust was intimately broken
by someone close to me. In breaking my
trust they also shattered my ability to trust
myself and, by extension, trust others. I was
closed off from myself and others in a body
that I felt was no longer my own. Time,
therapy, a tweak in my medications, and
many, many tears have made the pain less
raw. I’m able to look at myself in the mirror,
feelings of panic don’t creep up as randomly
or frequently, and I’ve regained some secu-
rity and trust in my current relationships.
Yet, I wouldn’t say I’m fully healed. I’m still
unsure in my judgement and worry about
my ability to fully trust in anyone new. I
would say that for this season of my life, my
trauma is handled in such a way that it’s not
on my mind all the time. But it’s still there,
albeit less loud and less invasive. And I have
no idea how it might affect me in the future,
so I guess I’m still trying to figure out how
to truly heal.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 28


Notes On The Sculpture From The Artist:
Everything about this resonates. After the
passing of my best friend, I also had to
find ways to manage my trauma and move
forward. Like you said, it never really goes
away. The healing process is just about
learning to manage what we feel. Many oth-
er forms of trauma also come into our lives,
events that make us question our judgment
and our ability to trust. When that happens,
it’s a long a journey back into our minds
and into ourselves. I am so glad that you
are feeling secure in your healing. Every
day is a process, and we never really know
what will come up. I created sculpture that
is based on the buds of Rhodiola Rosea, an
arctic herb that helps your
body adapt to stress.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 29


“Time, therapy, a
tweak in my medications, and many,
many tears have made the pain less
raw. I’m able to look at myself in the
mirror, feelings of panic don’t creep up
as randomly or frequently, and I’ve re-
gained some security and trust in my
current relationships. Yet, I wouldn’t
say I’m fully healed.”

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 30


By Anna
The hardest battle
is one when you do not know
the enemy. You do not know
what they look like, when they
will strike, nor how they will
fight. Disease and illness often
are such adversaries. Some 18
months ago, my partner started
mentioning pains gnawing away
at his body, creeping from his
bones, his back, his jaw into his
mind, a dark swarm of invasive,
insidious thoughts dragging
him down and under. We talked
things through; he was to see a
psychiatrist. Session came after
session, the psychiatrist invited
me to join. Little pinpricks of

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 31


what to find, me tugging slightly on his
light flickered through, but were rapidly hand as he pauses for breath, pushing
smothered by unvoiced screams of pain himself forwards. Yet I too wade through
and frustration. We left the psychiatrist. this blackened mass, feeling only his hand
We talked; perhaps some other sort of in my hand, choking as I open my mouth,
specialist. Doctor came after doctor; en- afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to
docrinologists, physiotherapists, rheuma- break him if I pull too hard. Some days the
tologists all with innocuous test results, dark fog lifts, the incline rolls gently into
either a bewildered ‘let’s test for something a plateau, we stroll and we laugh, the sun
else then’ or a dismissive pat on the back dancing off our faces. But days feel like
out the door. Our midnight messages - me minutes, and the clouds steal the sun away
like a broken record ‘let’s try somewhere once more, our world again swallowed into
else’, him similarly ‘I can’t go on any more’; darkness by a faceless, omnipresent enemy.
neither of us knowing where to look or

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 32


Notes On The Sculpture From The Artist:
I felt like you’re such a bearer of light to your partner, even through
the moments of unending darkness. This sculpture is a bearer of light.
One of my loved ones has also fallen sick these past few years. Reading
your story in some ways felt like a mirror to the experiences my family
and I have been having. At times it can be incredibly grim and con-
fusing, much like feeling your way through the darkness. And those
never-ending doctor’s appointments? My god, nothing leaves you
feeling more confused and powerless. But I am so grateful for the little
moments of joy you describe – sometimes we’re listening to Simon and
Garfunkel or going for a simple walk. It’s in these moments that we
find our way back to the light.

With the sculpture I created, I tried to focus on this idea of light


entering our lives in the simplest ways. On the most superficial level,
the sculpture is like a shell one would pick up from the beach. The
shape is modeled after Blastoidea, or sea buds. Conceptually, I wanted
the sculpture to be a bearer of light. When I modeled the sculpture, I
focused on the center to ground the shape. Undulations in the surface
of the sculpture radiate from the center.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 33


“Some days
the dark fog lifts, the incline
rolls gently into a plateau, we
stroll and we laugh, the sun
dancing off our faces.”

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 34


Works Cited
American Association of Retired Persons. 2015 Report: Caregiving in the U.S. 2015
Report: Caregiving in the U.S., AARP Public Policy Institute, 2015.

Seppala, Emma, et al. “Social Connection and Compassion: Important Predictors of


Health and Well-Being.” Social Research, vol. 80, no. 2, 2013, pp. 411–430.
JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24385608.

Vitaliano, Peter P., et al. “Is Caregiving a Risk Factor for Illness?” Current Directions
in Psychological Science, vol. 13, no. 1, 2004, pp. 13–16. JSTOR, www.jstor.
org/stable/20182897.

Wakabayashi, Chizuko, and Katharine M. Donato. “The Consequences of Caregiving:


Effects on Women’s Employment and Earnings.” Population Research and Pol
icy Review, vol. 24, no. 5, 2005, pp. 467–488. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/sta
ble/40230918.

Walker, Alexis J., et al. “Informal Caregiving to Aging Family Members: A Critical
Review.” Family Relations, vol. 44, no. 4, 1995, pp. 402–411. JSTOR, www.
jstor.org/stable/584996.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 35


Images & Design
All images in this publication are the property of the artist. Smita Sen created the
original 3D-modeled sculptures using Autodesk Maya and rendered them using the
same software. All image treatments were executed using Adobe Photoshop.

Book cover, print layout, and web publication were all designed by Smita Sen using
Adobe InDesign.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 36


Caregiving Resources
I hope that this work raises awareness and stays with all those who experience it. If you or someone you know
is currently a caregiver, below is a list of organizations that offer support to caregivers across the United States.
A version of this list was originally published by the American Society on Aging (see Works Cited).

AARP
www.aarp.org Lotsa Helping Hands
https://lotsahelpinghands.com/
Alzheimer’s Association
https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving National Alliance for Caregiving
www.caregiving.org
Alzheimer’s Foundation
https://alzfdn.org/caregiving-resources/ National Adult Day Services Association
https://www.nadsa.org/
American Association of Caregiving Youth
https://www.aacy.org/ National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
www.caremanager.org
ARCH National Respite Network
https://archrespite.org/ National Institute on Aging’s National Alzheimer’s Education and Referral
Center
Caregiver Action Network (CAN) https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers
https://caregiveraction.org/
National Long-Term Care Clearinghouse
Caregiver Support Services http://longtermcare.gov/
www.seniorcaregiversupport.com
Next Step in Care: Family Caregivers and Health Care Professionals Working
Caring.com Together
http://www.caring.com http://www.nextstepincare.org/

Caring Bridge Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving


http://www.caringbridge.com http://www.rosalynncarter.org/

Eldercare Locator (U.S. Administration on Aging) VA Caregiver Support


https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx http://www.caregiver.va.gov/

Family Caregiver Alliance Well Spouse Association


https://www.caregiver.org/pilotIntegration/indexPersistent.html?uri=%2F http://www.wellspouse.org/

Home Instead Senior Care


https://www.homeinstead.com/#CR

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 37


This is an ongoing project. To learn more about the series or to
participate, please contact the artist at smitakakolisen@gmail.com.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 38


Copyright © 2019 by Smita Sen

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmit-
ted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or
mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the artist, except in the case of
brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses per-
mitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the artist, addressed “Attention:
Manipura Permissions,” at the address below.

Smita Sen
333 Christian Street
Wallingford, CT 06492
www.smitaksen.myportfolio.com

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 39


Manipura
Of Flowers and Bones
A Sculpture Series & Investigation
by Smita Sen

What is healthcare? What does it mean to


‘care’ for the ‘health’ of someone else?
In the last months of her father’s life, Smita and her family were absorbed in a
whirlwind of hospitals, doctors’ visits, and at-home caregiving. Her father had a
complex and unusual illness that was not well understood by doctors. With the rapid
changes in his health, the family was forced to confront the limits of modern medicine
and to untangle the complexities of the American healthcare system.
A fundamental question emerged: What is healthcare?
What does it mean to ‘care’ for the ‘health’ of someone else?

In this new work, Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones, Smita Sen attempts to uncover
the answers to these questions. The work includes beautiful essays by diverse contrib-
utors who have experienced myriad forms of caregiving. Interpreting each story into a
complex, 3D-modeled sculpture, Sen offers a new vista into what healthcare looks like
beyond purely professional medicine.

Manipura: Of Flowers and Bones 40