A powerful work of arts-based knowledge translation, ‘Topsy Turvy’ is a multi-disciplinary and multi-sensory digital exhibition exploring contributors’ relationships to the health care system during COVID-19. ‘Topsy Turvy’ is based on contributions from 15 members of Maridulu Budyari Gumal SPHERE (Sydney Partnership for Health, Education, Research and Enterprise), and brought to life by a team of artists, musicians, designers and writers, led by Dr Barbara Doran. The result is an immersive, interactive digital drawing – a collective memoryscape that speaks to the power of art to interpret the world as it changes around us. 

Explore Topsy Turvy here:


‘A world turned topsy turvy’. ‘A  time to remember rather than to forget’. ‘The acid test of 21st century health systems’.  These are some of the insights of health leaders across Sydney  whose reflections underpin an art exhibition: Topsy Turvy. COVID – making meaning through art.

COVID-19, for many of us, has been one of the most disruptive experiences we have lived through. It has brought our understandings of health under the microscope both literally and metaphorically. We’ve had to consider self-care, collective care, and what systems of care can and can’t do. We’ve looked to science and rallied together to cross boundaries.

This artwork is an interactive digital drawing. It is a response to our experiences of Covid-19 through the lens of people who have led major health networks. COVID turned our worlds topsy turvy. Some of us went into overdrive at the frontlines. Technologies have been  embraced that alter the way we connect. It has been a mixed bag of new found freedoms, isolation, uncertainties and re-valuing what is important. We’ve turned to nature, furry friends, family, exercise, and creative pursuits for nourishment. For each of us the collage is different.

A Unique Collaboration

This work has been created through a unique collaboration within Maridulu Budyari Gumal SPHERE (Sydney Partnership in Health Education, Research and Enterprise), where art and making meaning come together. SPHERE aims to do health better by bringing together clinicians, health consumers, carers and researchers. To create Topsy Turvy, leaders of this network shared images, songs, and reflections on working at various interfaces of the health care system. Their responses were a rich mix that encompassed gratitude and respect for those they work with, while recognising the amplified value of research and technology. At the same time the accounts were personal, poetic, artistic, humorous and serious and sought transcending themes in mythology. They all embraced an ethic of care and our interdependencies as we navigate a shared space for health.

The exhibition

The artwork reveals these stories while tapping into the surreal timbre of the times that are equally diverse, personal and varied in composition. And, just as COVID-19 has spanned physical and digital space, this artwork can be experienced across different modes of engagement. We will launch with an interactive web exhibition where viewers can create their own visual story, with an option to share via our social media gallery. When we can meet publicly, the exhibition can be experienced as an immersive 360 surround digital screening (at the UTS Data Arena), which may be arranged by viewers to reflect their own experiences. Inspired by the submissions of the health sector leaders, this artwork has been collectively realised by visual artist Dr Anton Pulvirenti, poetic writer and performer Peter Maple, and sound and interaction designer Annie Mckinnon, in collaboration with Dr Barbara Doran (creative direction and curation). The exhibition represents one of a series of arts-based projects of the SPHERE Consumer and Community Involvement and Knowledge Translation Strategic Platform, led by Prof Katherine Boydell, A/Prof Ann Dadich and Ainslie Cahill and the generous contributions of members of the SPHERE Council.

About Maridulu Budyari Gumal, SPHERE

Established in 2017, SPHERE is one of eight Advanced Health Research Translation Centres of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. Its Aboriginal name Maridulu Budyari Gumal, was gifted by the Dharug people and means ‘working together for good health and well-being’.

SPHERE is comprised of 14 organisations in the Sydney region, including local health districts, speciality health networks, universities and medical research institutes. These organisations collaborate to advance health(care) by pursuing solutions to specific cultural, social and environmental health issues. Within SPHERE, 16 clinical academic groups (CAGs) were established, each with a particular focus. They include: Aboriginal health and well-being, age and ageing, and cancer care, among others.

About the SPHERE Consumer and Community Involvement and Knowledge Translation Strategic Platform

The SPHERE Consumer and Community Involvement and Knowledge Translation Strategic Platform was established to share co- created knowledge to improve individual and community well- being. Arts-based knowledge translation incorporates the arts in research to produce and disseminate knowledge with a specific focus on consumer and community involvement. The arts provide powerful opportunities to express what it is to be human, and communicate complex community and social issues. In this space we can collectively challenge assumptions, inspire conversations, connect diverse people, imagine new solutions, and promote action for positive change.

Article by Maridulu Budyari Gumal SPHERE (Sydney Partnership for Health, Education, Research and Enterprise)
Image credit Maridulu Budyari Gumal SPHERE (Sydney Partnership for Health, Education, Research and Enterprise)
Posted by Holly Davison