The Art of Pain

The works of June Okochi

Voices of Pain

Voices of Pain is a multi-track montage of individuals’ reports living with or affected by sickle cell. This UK based audio-documentary is a heartfelt and insightful production which captures the featured individuals’ first hand experiences and themes of pain, suffering, trauma but more importantly, resilience, hope and dreams that has enabled them deal with their pain & suffering. The collection of untold accounts is an unedited and raw artistic expression of people aimed at finding meaning in their suffering and with art forms of poetry, prose, language, sensory, colour and sound which brings their narratives to life. Created by June Okochi Sound Production by MistaBooks Music - The Path by Sean Beeson

Click here to listen



Portraits of Pain

Artists always aim for an expression of their works to depict a true depth of humanity and human suffering with objectives that the recipient can recognize these expressions and connect to their everyday lives.

For me, that sense of liberation to express art in forms that may depict pain, suffering and humanity has been the foundation for my work, Portraits of Pain.

I use photography as a form of art to express differently, to tell mine and other’s stories, living with our genetic condition (sickle cell) through visual imagery.

Portraits of Pain uses photography as an art form to express the different motions that come with sickle cell. It’s a collection of abstracts, that which can’t be seen: - the hidden disease, the pain, the fatigue from anemia, mental health and depression, the isolation, frustration, the red cells shaped liked a sickle, the damage, the resilience, suffering, hope, love, the battle and the fight to overcome.

More importantly, I wanted to bring to life the actual subjects of the portraits, the warriors of society, those who go through pain and suffering and who are behind the scenes just “getting on with it”.


I collaborated on this project with:

UK based photographer, Jim Higham

Nigerian based creative director, Ijeoma Okochi-Agwu

London production team: Mica Marshall and Thomas Okochi.

The models I featured are all London based individuals affected by the condition.

This work was publicly exhibited at Imperial College, London in 2019.


Pain that assails me ; Sometimes I have the urge to go into the mountains or a remote beach and just scream out loud at the top of my lungs to let out this pain I have bottled up inside for many years

We weren’t born rich: We are not alone. In our world, we may be individuals but we feel the same pain in our bones, shed the same tears, share this same flawed blood cells, walk through the dark together.

Hidden behind the veil: Masking my pain has become a skill

The Crisis : The pain and crisis come in the middle of the night and all I can do is call 999 and wait

Son, Give Us A Minute: "No child deserves to suffer so much pain and all we can do is sit here broken-hearted, helpless, praying that this pain goes away. We know we can't take his pain away and that’s the worst position any parent can find themselves”

I Cannot Lose Her

Always ready to carry her when she falls (from this pain) because if the system fails her, I certainly wont.

Why Me? I used to seek reasons for my pain. I have normalized my suffering. I am no longer a victim. I have found meaning in this pain.

#StopDStigma: Sickle on my sleeves

A millennial generation who are not inhibited by their pain or suffering and have an exposé of their lives on social media and on hashtags but are caught up by the stigma their parents, grandparents and communities have carried with them. "Hush child! Don't let them know you have sickle cell"

The life and death of a blossoming rose: Blossoming a very painful flower, and pricked by a deadlier thorn. Please give blood! It helps takes my pain away.

Zoned Out: Sickle cell became that thing that was always ticking along in the background like a white noise, it just sits there and every now and then emerges and demands attention (through pain) at its own convenience.

The Sickle On the Heart: I look nothing like what sickle cell and its has put me through. In these dark shadows, shines a light. My heart and my mind is a provenance for how I deal with this pain.

'Weltschmerz': It's this deep pain about the imperfections of my genes

Enduring Anguish: A type of pain ever isolating and crushing in its all-consumingness

Sickles, the death of us: To be familiar with an ongoing sense of death, organ damage, pain and suffering feels like a constant visitor & an unwelcome guest we have to deal with

Trapped: Like being caught in a trap, and never being freed from this pain

A World Without Sickle Cell: I often imagine what my world could look like without this pain

I Only Cry At Night: As a black man, I was taught to never show weakness or pain

Eyes Wide Open: As a child, what I knew was what I knew, and I didn’t necessarily draw equivalences with other people’s lives to see if my experience was the same as theirs. I just went with the flow and the pain

Look closely, I Am Sick

And in the end, with this pain, I have learnt how to be strong alone

Is Love Enough?: Love is beyond just a genotype and genetic imbalances. In future generations, must come poetic justice

The Helpless Tears: As parents, we want to protect our children from pain, suffering, traumas and distress but how can you control the suffering and pain that comes with the flaws in their DNAs? How do you watch your child suffer and you cannot save them?

Glass Full; Like drowning each day in the spring I need to survive the pain by treading water constantly

You Can Do It: The forgotten stories of parents who not only raise a child but give life to their sick babies living through pain.

Blood that runs through my little fragile veins: Life Changing Exchange; Exchanging my blood to receive new blood. It’s the blood of kind strangers, members of the public who donate their blood that keep people like me pain free, healthy and alive.

A Warrior who Beat Life Spans: "I am awake. I feel liberated, I AM NOT ON BORROWED TIME"

Protecting those We love: Of what use is a feeling of helplessness that can't take the pain away?

Life Support: Trapped in her pill pot and masked by her lipstick. Who sees the pain?

A death unseen: (Avascular Necrosis); The pain feels like a Barbed Wire is constricting the bone and then it eventually dies.

Mummy, you are my rock: The impact on families (especially mothers) as choice becomes a primary focus in the context of social perspectives when considering to have children who could live with pain and a disability for the rest of their lives.

Strengthening ties with loved ones; Allowing me to be helped, loved and saved. He remains the hand that always helps me up through pain

Letting my tears drop: sealing my pain in these tears and finding solace and strength in letting go. The burden of guilt parents carry watching their children undergo excruciating pain.

In loving memory: We leave the light on and the red roses for those who have gone too soon, for those who will never feel this pain ever again. Ever again


Sickle cell anemia is a blood disorder that causes the red cells to be shaped like sickles and therefore restricts oxygen from circulating within the vessels, the organs and other parts of the body, causing excruciating pain, organ damage, fatigue, strokes, avascular necrosis, sickle cell retinopathy, cardiovascular problems, and sometimes early mortality.

#sicklecell #pain #health #art #photography