Art Rock

Tyagaraja, Elephant Aid Cancer Patient's "Obstacle" Removal

Earlier this year, we covered a video by Deborah Thomas showing the music therapy program at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Thomas was kind enough to pass along her latest video; a simultaneously inspiring and heartbreaking work called "All Obstacles Removed."

The subject of "Obstacles" is a 10-year-old brain cancer patient named Aidan Immroth. Immroth loved elephants, and painted pictures of them often, but he imagined a project huge in scope and well beyond the imagination of many older and more experienced artists.

Along with M. D. Anderson's Artist in Residence, Ian Cion, and a large group of volunteers, Immroth painted an actual elephant. Basing the work on a previous drawing done with Photoshop, Immroth transferred his work to a living elephant canvas named Krissy.

Immroth's inspiration came from a tapestry in his house showing the elephant-headed Hindu god Lord Ganesh, who is responsible for moving obstacles out of the path of success.

Plus, "Elephants are really cool," said Immroth, "They're known to be lucky."

The finished project, who was constantly bribed with fruit in order to sit still for the painting, was a walking work of art covered in painted flowers, geometric shapes, and signed by Immroth's white handprint.

"Going through cancer can make you feel disconnected from the world," said Cion. "A project like this can help you reconnect with the vitality of nature."

Sadly, Immroth lost his fight with cancer in last November, one of around 1,500 people who are lost to the disease every day.

His artistic accomplishment is chronicled in Thomas's video, with a soundtrack by Houston's own Tyagaraja. The music is a recording of a Hindu mantra to the Hindu god Shiva, "Maha Mrituyunjaya," a plea to overcome death. Not the physical ending of the human body, but rather to conquer spiritual death in hopes of ever-lasting life.

Legend has it that Shiva once stopped time at the request of a boy destined to die at a young age. Though Immroth is gone, his accomplishment lives on through Thomas's record.

The city is surely much poorer for having lost an artist who at just 10 years old had the grandiose vision and uncommon skill to be a groundbreaking name.

Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner