Harnessing The Healing Power of Stories


Healing Arts Initiative Grant Award

The Healing Arts Initiative has awarded its first grant to artist Gillan Wang. Below, Gillan describes the project, and how the process of creating this work has been a healing experience. You can also see pictures of the finished piece. Emalia Brown has recently passed away.


Project Description:


I recently learned of a high school friend who lives on Maui, where we both grew up, who is fighting Stage IV cancer.  The news of her illness came as a terrible shock.  In order to work through my own sadness, and in an effort to demonstrate my compassion, I am creating an art quilt to raise money to help defray Emalia’s escalating medical costs.  The format of the piece I am making is based on a traditional Hawaiian quilt, but differs in that it tells the story of Emalia’s eminent journey, and our shared connections to Hawaii.


Traditional Hawaiian quilts typically feature a solid geometric plant-based pattern, appliqued onto a high-contrast solid fabric.  The geometric pattern that I created is based on the silhouette of my friend.  The reference is specific, yet her identity is intentionally ambiguous.  (Emalia’s trademark is a flower behind her ear, which is discernible in the silhouette). I am using sheer fabric for the silhouette/geometric shape, atop many colorful fabrics that collectively evoke a sense of water, marine life, flora and fauna – all of which we both love. The sheer fabric allows the imagery below to read through, thereby allowing for multiple readings, and suggesting an elusive state of existence. While I am driven by sorrow to create this quilt, I aim to express a more upbeat message of love, peace and acceptance.


Quilt for Emalia Brown, 25.5″ wide x 25″ high


Machine quilted and hand stitched with organza overlays and beading

This quilt was made for Emalia Brown, in an effort to express my aloha and to help raise money to offset medical expenses.  It is now being donated in her honor to benefit her preschool aged son, in the Kahalakea Guard Educational Fund.  The original design is loosely based on the symmetrical geometric form of a traditional Hawaiian quilt, but uses Emalia’s silhouette from a high school yearbook photo, as the subject.  The quilt features brilliant colors and tropical flora and fauna, which collectively evoke the richness of Hawaii’s oceans – a place that Emalia loved.  The words grace, love, peace and eternal are embroidered on and around the geometric form, in English and in Hawaiian.


How did the process of creating this work promote healing?


The creation of this artwork helped me to come to terms with a very upsetting loss.  I was shocked to learn that a lovely high school friend from Hawaii was battling Stage IV Cancer.  Initially I was overwhelmed by my sadness, but eventually this project helped me to reflect on the positive attributes of my friend, which we will forever celebrate.  It also allowed me to feel empowered by taking action to help my friend’s family in a tangible way, as opposed to feeling helpless about an unfair situation.  I am most grateful to the Health Story Collaborative for supporting me in this endeavor.



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