Caregivers residency blog: Hope is the thing with feathers by Norma D Hunter

In March 2023 Norma D Hunter completed her SSW X Counterflows Residency supported by Creative Scotland’s Radical Care project. The residency offered artists time, space, funding and support to develop artists practices alongside their caregiving responsibilities. Norma has written a beautiful, honest blog about her experience as a caregiver and how the residency helped her regain her identity as an artist.

Please note this blog contents information about living with and supporting someone living with cancer.

“When it comes back…and it will come back” The consultant haematologist’s words, which we discussed in the car on the way home. We felt they were unnecessarily cruel as we were very aware it would come back but it hadn’t at that time. We’ve been living with myeloma (a blood cancer) as our life companion for some five and a half years now, a journey which would take almost as long to describe. We had decided to live as if it wasn’t with us despite its best efforts to marr our every day. I always feel a bit of a fraud saying “We” as I’m the bystander, the onlooker, the partner cancer free but never carefree, not really, even if I/we don’t show it. My carefree days were over when we were told that Myeloma is currently incurable but treatable with an average OSR overall survival rate of twenty nine months at stage three in the summer of 2017. My role as a carer really began then.

I think when I applied for the Caregiver’s residency last year it was because I identified as a carer not as an artist, not anymore, at that time. Initially I had managed to keep making work and undertaking art projects even through the cancer treatment, multiple appointments, covid and I even scraped through an MA in Art and Social Practice but when “It” did come back, mid summer, last year, with a vengeance, the switch in my head said “You are now a full time carer”.

The treatment which is now prolonging our life together also affirms that and everyday the symptoms and suffering are different and our lives are dictated by weekly chemotherapy, three out of every four weeks devoting one day to a visit to the chemo ward.

We are still here and still laughing but when I applied for the Care givers residency I wondered could I still be an artist, could I even remember how to make work?

Earlier in the summer with support of a lovely friend I had made a joint application for another similar residency. I remember thinking back then I need to keep a part of my life going, seperate from the demands of cancer and the process of developing that application together with someone who gently questioned and discussed every aspect of the application process inspired me to plod on and try to revive my career.

I was successful in securing one of the Caregiver residency spots at SSW Scottish Sculpture Workshop, last summer. The staff there too have had much to deal with, as their capital development programme continued to be delayed, going through this period of site upgrades and transformations to keep on trend and relevant to an ever changing art scene and accompanying funding streams. Nothing ever stands still, nothing stays the same forever.

All of the staff went out of their way to consider what my needs would be and never failed to meet them, spreading out my residency time, breaking it into manageable chunks of heavily supported time.

Nurturing me through the early days when my confidence was particularly low and my caring role getting more demanding as a result of the chemo proving too toxic and resulting in adjustments to be made weekly. The atmosphere was very relaxed, considerate and gently paced. Regular check ins with me to see if I/we had everything I/we needed whilst at the workshops ensured that gradually I felt I could be an artist again.

(I brought my husband with me and he was cared for by us all). Which was made even easier as he was provided with a very comfy couch and slept a lot of the time while I was working.
I/we even managed a visit to the V&A in Dundee, something I have wanted to do for years.

As there was no expectation or requirement for an outcome, I felt that I could quietly explore and experiment and try new materials whilst paying acknowledgment to my original proposal. I never felt under any pressure, just gently supported.

As a socially engaged artist I was well used to working with groups of people when I first began the residency I couldn’t think of facing people and just wanted to make for myself. However I finished the residency by facilitating a workshop sharing my work. Something I doubted I would ever do again. I am now working on a year long, part time residency, with a collaborator. I attribute my ability to do this work as a direct result of the Care givers residency which was so well facilitated by the staff team at SSW and the brilliant new facilities.

Images below by Rabindranath Bhose

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