Sunil Gupta examines patients’ lives in new photography exhibition

11 May 2022

Sunil Gupta examines patients’ lives in new photography exhibition
A new exhibition of photos from leading international artist Sunil Gupta is now on display across two Imperial College Healthcare hospitals.

Songs of Deliverance, Part I and Part II is the result a year-long residency from the artist. Working with Imperial Health Charity, Gupta spent his time in the Adult HIV Clinic at St Mary’s Hospital and the Gender Affirmation Surgery service at Charing Cross Hospital.

Patients and medical staff were invited to collaborate, sometimes over video calls, other times he met them in their own familiar spaces: a church yard, the high street, parks, rivers, bars, or grocery stores.

The result is a series of large–scale photographic works which present moving portrayals of his collaborators' lives, their experiences of receiving care and the relationships and transformations that occur in the process. Accompanying texts—some fictional, some personal—explore family, community, stigma, and the lived realities of individuals who access these vital services.

"The surgery I had was quite liberating – it changed my life – so I feel grateful to the team at Charing Cross Hospital and what they did for me."

Evie, a former patient at Charing Cross Hospital

Evie, who received gender affirmation surgery at Charing Cross Hospital last summer and was featured in the exhibition, said:

“The day of my surgery was terrifying but when I went back to the hospital to see the photographs I felt really happy and chilled walking in. I just sat in the café in the foyer and had a cup of coffee and watched people looking at the images – it was wonderful.

“I had a very religious upbringing and I felt very condemned and guilty. I spent a major part of my life trying to conform to people's expectations and it was only when I could no longer do that I had a whole journey trying to find peace with the beliefs I always had.

“One of the photographs is of me sitting in a graveyard and the quote attached to that is really significant to me – ‘I feel a lot more peaceful now that I know the God I always believed was so judgemental, can and does love people like me.’”

“The surgery I had was quite liberating – it changed my life – so I feel grateful to the team at Charing Cross Hospital and what they did for me.”

An image from the exhibition of a patient with the quote "I never hide, I am a trans woman, but at the same time I don't broadcast it. I feel I am in a good place now."Image credit: Sunil Gupta, Untitled (from Songs of Deliverance), 2022. Commissioned by Studio Voltaire and Imperial Health Charity. Image courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery. © Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022

Gupta has explored healthcare as a part of queer experience since the 1990s. His From Here to Eternity (1999) series was in part a response to the HIV epidemic, documenting his own treatments for the illness since a diagnosis in 1995, and the response of his own community and family.

With tenderness and insight, Songs of Deliverance will explore how public health systems shape private modes of belonging. A concurrent presentation of the works will be on view at Studio Voltaire.

This project is a collaboration between Studio Voltaire and Imperial Health Charity and has received additional funding from Arts Council England. It is available to view until mid-July in the main foyer at Charing Cross Hospital and the Cambridge Wing Gallery at St Mary’s Hospital.