Secret Lives of Staff: Research guru finds mindfulness in art

WSLHD Research Ethics officer Seema Manoj with two oil paintings she created during lockdown: Respect to the frontline health worker and Anna Karenina.

Working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic provided a new challenge for Seema Manoj – as well as a new opportunity.

Seema is a human research ethics officer with the Research and Education Network, responsible for liaising between ethics committees and researchers across various health districts across Australia – including Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

From late March she started working from home and found it increasingly difficult to separate her challenging work from her personal life.

“What I love about the role is all the research is so different. You never stop learning. But my role is crucial and I found I needed to manage my personal life in a better way,” Seema said.

“I have no formal art training but I have been creating art for many years in different mediums, including ballpoint pen, pencil, coffee and rice.

“I shared some work on Facebook and people encouraged me to keep doing it and try oil painting. I thought oil was only for artistic geniuses but I started doing it for one to two hours every day and it’s become a form of mindfulness and meditation for me.

“I feel so relaxed doing something just for me.”

Seema has created two stunning oil pieces so far – one inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s classic 19th-century novel Anna Karenina, which she read during lockdown, and another of a frontline health worker.

Seema’s colleague Mark Smith, WSLHD Research Development manager, gave her the canvas for this piece and said he was amazed by the result.

Her plan is to create enough pieces to host her own exhibition and sell the art to raise money for the Westmead Hospital Foundation.

“This year has been hard but it’s allowed me to see life in a different way. I’m a stronger person now,” Seema said.

“Everyone is unique and sees things in different ways. Art is something that allows me to appreciate that uniqueness and express myself. Now I want to inspire others and hopefully give back in some way.

“I would encourage anyone to break out of your routine and do something new to give your life balance. For me it is art, but for you it could be anything that takes you away from your responsibilities and gives you a different perspective.”