When Swallows Return


Every 5 minutes someone in the UK has a stroke. The 1.2 million who survive a stroke often experience lasting effects and an altered sense of self that can be difficult to explain to others. 


Through her previous experience as a nurse and carer, artist Julia Mason has developed a long term interest in stroke and brain neuroplasticity. Building on dialogue with stroke patients and their families at St Pancras Hospital, Julia has continued to work collaboratively with groups of stroke survivors, carers and health professionals as Artist in Residence at The Free Space Project. Her project Different Strokes explored visual representations of the early stages of stroke and the process of on-going recovery.  


Julia uses everyday objects and materials, historical artefacts, drawing and narrative accounts to jointly develop artworks through playful and experimental activities. Her art practice is influenced by her background in nursing, public health and community development and a desire to make visible or give voice to those who are overlooked or seldom heard. 


The result is When Swallows Return, a powerful exhibition of sculptures, collages and prints that provide visual insight into some of the effects of stroke, and which reference and validate stroke survivors’ own experiences. 


Big Stroke

A stroke hits suddenly and with force, but its softer sister invites a gentle touch.  You are welcome to stroke the surface of the letters.  


Say What?

The effects of aphasia can mean that words and language don’t always make sense at first. There are clues here though and your brain will try to work out the meaning. 

With thanks to the Drawing for Aphasia group for sharing their experiences with such good humour and to John …..for creating this series with me



This work developed from an individual art session with a very unwell patient as we looked at images of the brain together and experimented with different materials. She was able to press pieces of plasticine around a piece of string and the first ‘brain neuron’ emerged. Since then many people have made a neuron and helped connect them together while finding out more about the brain’s anatomy and how it’s affected by stroke. My thanks to Susan Hutton, a volunteer on the project who made several hundred neurons.


Left Hemisphere, Right Hemisphere

These CT images, taken from medical training resources, show how stroke has flooded or blocked areas of the brain. Up is down, and the co-ordinates of perception are scrambled. The unaffected brain hemisphere starts to do the heavy lifting of the damaged hemisphere. The brain’s neuroplasticity will then begin to create new pathways to recovery. 


Get a Grip

Get a Grip is an engaging and accessible performative process which incorporates therapeutic touch and positive regard. Through mutual effort of the artist and participant, a ball of clay or paper mache is gripped and shaped to create a personalised hand grip cast. Each cast is unique and when displayed together they become a collection of artefacts that suggest a shared history and combined resilience. 


Fly away, come back again

Swallow charms and images decorate the personalised collar collection, symbolically representing the discomfort and difficulties of dysphagia (swallowing problems) but also act as a metaphor of hope and recovery.  



A head piece to be worn, combining the altered sensation, facial paralysis and loss of identity after stroke.