Mr Azman in the middle of this Chinese Bamboo painting at St. Andrew’s Nursing Home, Taman Jurong.
Mr Azman in the middle of his Chinese Bamboo painting.

Looking at these intricate strokes of the Chinese Bamboo paintings, it may surprise you that it’s the masterful work of 55-year-old Mr Azman Bin Sawal.

The bubbly former interior designer, who specialises in kitchen layouts, uses art not only as a form of self-expression but also as a way to help him come to grips with his conditions.

Mr Azman had two strokes, one in 2013 and another in 2017. The left side of his body was affected, limiting his movements. Due to his stroke, he has oral dysphagia, so he now relies on a nasogastric tube to feed on milk and water five times a day.

Furthermore, his left leg was amputated below the knee in 2017, due to complications from diabetes.

Painting and similar creative activities can promote healthy, happy feelings.
Mr Azman uses painting to express himself.

Focusing on His Passion for Art

Mr Azman’s passion for art keeps him going, despite these medical setbacks. Together with the nurturing environment of St. Andrews Nursing Home (SANH) in Taman Jurong, he was able to rekindle this interest.

Mr Azman came to stay in SANH in April 2019. It was a difficult decision for him and his wife, Mdm Mohaini Binti Abdul Majid. As the couple have no children, she tried to focus on caring for him after his 2017 stroke. But as his care needs grew, Mdm Mohaini, who works in housekeeping, realised she could not cope.

At SANH Taman Jurong, Mr Azman was able to undergo occupational therapy and machine exercises to strengthen his muscles. However, this is a far cry from his past, when he used to play squash, tennis, golf, and rugby regularly.

To lift his spirits, the SANH team proposed activities based on his love for art and Chinese culture, after learning that he picked up Chinese painting when he was in secondary school.

Mr Azman shows off his finished work, along with Jason, who often stands by him and helps out when necessary.
Mr Azman shows off his finished work. WIth him is Jason, his therapy assistant ,who has supported his artistic pursuits and helps out when needed.

At his weekly art sessions, they would help him prepare materials such as paper, water, and paints, and watch over him as he worked on his masterpieces.

Mr Azman draws strength from his favourite paint subject- the bamboo. “Drawing bamboo always calms me down. I love it because it represents strength and endurance, which are what I need when living with my medical conditions.”

Mr Azman posing proudly with his other works
Mr Azman posing with his other works.

The highlight of his painting ‘career’ was gifting one of his works to Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, who visited SANH Taman Jurong’s official opening on 30th August 2019.

Mr Azman’s bamboo painting was gifted to Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies
Mr Azman’s Bamboo painting was given as a token of appreciation to Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, at the Official SANH opening.
(photo credit: SANH Taman Jurong) 

A Positive Outlook in Life

These days, Mr Azman’s mind is occupied not only with painting, but also the culinary arts!

He often thinks about what he can achieve after he leaves the nursing home, and dreams about setting up a business on making tempeh, an Indonesian product made with fermented soy beans. It’s not a far-fetched goal – he once ran a café with his wife selling Italian food for two years.

The SANH staff are persuading him to revisit cooking as another form of therapy, with a special station catered to one-hand use.

With enough practice, who knows, says Mr Azman, one day he may be serving tempeh to the nursing home residents!

Here is a look at Mr Azman at work:

Benefits of Art and Art Therapy

What Mr Azman does through his Chinese ink painting is using an art activity to help cope with his feelings about his medical conditions. The calming nature of art, or similar creative activities, can help promote healthy, happy feelings. This is why art therapy is developed to improve seniors’ mental, physical and emotional health.

Art therapy uses different types of art forms to explore emotions, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. It has both creative and health benefits, especially for seniors. In addition, it helps with hand-eye coordination, cognitive abilities, and concentration.

Check out the SPARKS Wellness Toolkit for different art activities that you can adapt and practise at home with your elderly loved ones.

If you are looking for ideas, here’s how you can share the joy of photography with your loved ones and at the same time, stimulate their senses. Check out some of the craft works done by seniors who adapted activities from the toollkit.

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