Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Robert Pope’s painting, Mountain

P. Ravi Shankar
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Mountain by Robert Pope

Robert Pope, a Canadian artist, left behind an important collection of work dealing with illness and healing. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1956, he died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1992. He has created a series of paintings and sketches about his experience as a cancer patient.1

His painting, Mountain, was influenced by the Elvis song, “Lord, You Gave Me a Mountain”. Pope regarded cancers as mountains and as insurmountable obstacles to overcome. In his paintings he often shows the world from the perspective of the bed-ridden patient. This holds true in the painting. The viewer sees the patient’s body from the view of the head, as the patient himself would, signalling the work to be a self-portrait.2

During the sixteen years of humanities sessions and workshops I and my co-facilitators have conducted in Nepal, the Caribbean, Malaysia, and India, we have found that the students and participants looked at this painting in a very different manner from that envisaged by the artist. The painting is dark and gloomy, and the predominant color is green. The students comment on the compassion shown by the woman in the painting and the bond between the patient and the bystander. The view through the window is regarded positively and as bringing the light of nature to the dark and gloomy room. The view was regarded as giving hope to the patient. The curative powers of nature were often mentioned. None mentioned about the lurking mountain as “cancer” inexorably progressing toward the patient.

Like other paintings by Pope, this one powerfully captures the patient’s helpless situation and the importance of human relationships during a time of illness, distress, and despair.

End notes

  1. “Bio.” Robert Pope Archive. https://robertpopearchive.com/bio/
  2. “Mountain.” Robert Pope Archive. https://robertpopearchive.com/artwork/mountain/

DR. P. RAVI SHANKAR is a clinical pharmacologist and a medical educator. He has a keen interest in the health humanities and has facilitated sessions in Nepal, the Caribbean, India, and Malaysia. He is a creative writer and photographer. He is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education, IMU University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Spring 2024

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