Interview to Rita Mangano: art, therapy, colours and hospitals

We host an interesting contribution concerning art in relation to therapy and treatment systems. This is an interview with Rita Mangano, a painter who is extremely sensitive to the world of health and wellbeing.

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Who is Rita Mangano

I come from a long pedagogical experience with pre-schoolers in an era of experimentation and enthusiasm.
I am a painter, a self-taught artist and I have used this talent, built over the years, not only for an aesthetic function (beauty of the environment) but always paying attention to produce, through beauty, a state of better well-being (I am the first to use it).
I left the paediatric wards oncology to arrive then in the oncology for adult patients, Alzheimer’s, residences for the elderly and hospices / palliative care that have very different states of well-being.
My profession develops in two directions: the creation of paintings that I exhibit in my gallery on the Naviglio, in Milan, and the production of works for sanitary environments. These works are the fruit acquired over the years from my pedagogical experience, from psychology studies, years of courses on body language, emotions and non-verbal communication, from having conducted painting workshops with women working with breast cancer and health care workers and, a determining factor, attention to the human being and love for nature.
I consider myself a real painter but also an art therapist.


Tell us about colours

There are no universal readings on colour because every interpretation must be contextualized at the time and culture in which it is expressed.
An example for everyone: the BLACK in our western culture is associated with mourning and death, while in cultures adhering to reincarnation the WHITE is the colour of mourning.
There is no doubt that the warm colours, yellow, orange and red, are full of energy, while the cold colours return to interiority.
The colours then, being carriers of emotions, are also language of Non Verbal Communication and their symbolic meaning is ambivalent, an example: if I feel down and without energy, I choose unconsciously to wear a dress or an accessory of red colour to load myself with an energy and charge that I miss, or if I feel energy charged with red because it is in tune with what I feel internally. This refers to another significant variable with respect to the perception of colour, which varies not only according to the culture of belonging, but also to the individual history of each of us. The example of a 40 year old woman whom we will call Carla: a strong aversion to greenery, in clothing, in the drawings she produced and in the view of paintings made by others. After many months of attention to her own experiences and the perception of different types of colours, a bond reappears in her memory that, since she was a child and teenager, her mother exercised on her because she always had a note of green (small, handkerchief, blouse) as befits a’ good girl’. Consciousness reconciled the relationship with greenery.
Still about the red colour. In my experience of decorating hospital settings I would never once have put red subjects for patients who could easily associate them with wounds, withdrawals, suffering, but then I realized that depressed or traumatized patients looked and searched in particular red paintings because they needed them.
The FASHION culture has a lot to do with the choice of what we wear, because it tends to make certain colours desirable for a period, sometimes even only for a season, and, to give just one example, in certain environments the black colour is dominant, connected with the idea of elegance, and not connected with the depressive state representation!


Hospital facilities and colours

Some facilities have understood the value that colour of the environment has for patients’ well-being and have made appropriate investments. In many other hospital facilities, colour is only used for signage that makes it easier to reach the ward.
In some hospitals, the colour used is very strong and completely occupies the walls of hospital rooms and corridors: I understand that the first impact of a visitor can be positive by seeing the colour on in large quantities, but it is contraindicated for patients and operators themselves. The perception of one colour compared to another has a strong impact on the psychological and physical well-being of the people who come into contact with it.
For all these reasons, my work of pictorial decoration in the places of care, which I have been carrying out for more than thirty years, is studied specifically for the age and pathology of the guests/patients.



In Hospices, patients are often accompanied by relatives who live permanently in the ward for long weeks. Often and fortunately, in these structures there is more attention to the parental sphere: kitchen area, living room and a furnishing that can resemble the domestic one are intended to decorate and make the space more welcoming. The paintings displayed are intended to decorate and make the space more welcoming, such as furniture, curtains, sofas and fabrics used.
Feedback from customers who bought my paintings indicates the production of wellness as well as the aesthetic and decorative aspect, in relation to the colours I use (saturated pastel colours) associated with the form of subjects of nature.
I find the same thing when I receive emails from people I don’t know (parents who live in hospices) but who look for me through the signature of the paintings to thank me because the vision of my paintings helps them to endure the tragic moment and high psychological stress that they are facing. In the Hospices, therefore, much attention is paid to caregivers.
I then placed small paintings in the Hospice baths and in the changing rooms of the radiotherapy and oncology departments because they are private places, where you are alone with yourself and your burden of pain.
The painting, especially handmade, is also an economic value added to the hospital structure and a visible sign of respect for the person in hospital.


Magic wand

Any form of beauty in health resorts has added value if it is associated not only with the medical care for which the place is dedicated, but with greater respect and humanity for people through a holistic vision, towards the totality of the person.
The word “Humanization” is a word that would not have made sense to be invented, if it weren’t because “The Hospital” everything is anything but a warm and welcoming environment.
More attention should be paid to patients’ quality of life.
Starting from the entrance to the hospital and the ward the first impact is devastating, it would be nice if a domestic entrance were created with warm lights spread by abat-jour, carpets, wooden furniture, paintings and then a gradual approach to the hospital room.
The forcibly sharing of intimacy with strangers could be cushioned with functional screens but not with shower curtains as I have seen in many departments, or sliding walls with appropriate decorations that, like doors, appear as barriers.
The bathrooms in many cases lack the minimum comfort: where to put the towel? Where should the toilet trousse be placed? Where to hang the robe?
It would be nice to make the patient less passive by asking him or her to choose from a variety of options such as snacks. And if he was asked at the entrance to the ward at the time of hospitalisation, what pictorial representation would he like in the room? From here the choice of paintings through a photographic catalogue of hand painted works available and supplied and divided by subjects: marine environment, mountains, forests, tropical environment, animals, flowers, flowers, flowering trees etc.. In a nutshell, it would be useful to recover and enhance the residual capacity to make decisions and not only to be taxable persons of decisions that make decisions for others.
Communication should take place with a direct look in a gentle and polite way. In all care settings, communications to patients, especially in the oncology, long hospitalization or residences for the elderly, take place on the walls, creating confusion of various messages. Parties, film screenings, theatrical or musical events, would have more audience and follow if patients were “invited” to participate.
This is Passive Art for patients, and if there were laboratories in the wards equipped with suitable staff? And if there was music, musicians and artistic performances? Gardens to care for, gardens to look after? Create discussions on universal but pleasant themes, listen to the lives of others, enrich and enrich each other’s non-sanitary experiences, research and share joys and positivity in things.

Maria Giulia Marini

Epidemiologist and counselor in transactional analysis, thirty years of professional life in health care. I have a classic humanistic background, including the knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin, which opened me to study languages and arts, becoming an Art Coach. I followed afterward scientific academic studies, in clinical pharmacology with an academic specialization in Epidemiology (University of Milan and Pavia). Past international experiences at the Harvard Medical School and in a pharma company at Mainz in Germany. Currently Director of Innovation in the Health Care Area of Fondazione ISTUD a center for educational and social and health care research. I'm serving as president of EUNAMES- European Narrative Medicine Society, on the board of Italian Society of Narrative Medicine, a tenured professor of Narrative Medicine at La Sapienza, Roma, and teaching narrative medicine in other universities and institutions at a national and international level. In 2016 I was a referee for the World Health Organization- Europen for “Narrative Method of Research in Public Health.” Writer of the books; “Narrative medicine: Bridging the gap between Evidence-Based care and Medical Humanities,” and "Languages of care in Narrative Medicine" edited with Springer, and since 2021 main editor for Springer of the new series "New Paradigms in Health Care."

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