Transforming the art on our walls

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Four years ago, images of women were virtually non-existent in Yale School of Medicine’s (YSM) busiest public spaces.

This changed in mid-2019 with the opening of Aperture: Portraits of Women Professors of Medicine. The exhibit, sponsored by the YSM program for art in public spaces, can be seen on the second floor of the Sterling Hall of Medicine. Featuring photographic portraits by New Haven photographer Robert Lisak, the exhibition, originally scheduled to last about a year, is still running.

Opening was inspired by the celebration of 100 years of women at YSM, when many photographic portraits were made by Lisak. The photographer then gave prints of the portraits to YSM as gifts, paving the way for the exhibition. Already updated once with new portraits, Opening will undergo a third iteration this spring. In the meantime, the exhibit is refreshed with new portraits of Lisak and updated label text.

“There was such a positive response to the exhibit that we decided it should remain in place to continue to honor female faculty and inspire members of the medical school community,” said Anna Reisman, MD. , director of the Humanities in Medicine program and co-director of the YSM Program for Art in Public Spaces (PAPS), which sponsored the exhibition.

“Whenever I feel discouraged as an aspiring young female doctor, I walk down this hallway and remember why I do what I do and chase my dreams,” wrote Saira Munshani, a research assistant in the lab of Barbara Ehrlich, PhD, in the commentary book that accompanies the exhibition. “The amazing women in STEM, both on this wall and not, inspire me to be persistent, to work hard and to keep asking questions. To this day, nothing makes me more excited than how I feel after having read their stories and their advice, and knowing that with any luck, one day I can be as strong, smart and powerful as them.

Aperture refers to a space or void, a title that was a nod to the scarcity of women on the walls of the SHM when the exhibition opened. Since then, PAPS has mounted a series of exhibitions aimed at transforming the art on the walls of YSM’s public spaces to be more inclusive and better reflect the YSM community. Community in times of crisis: Yale, New Haven and HIV/AIDS, 1981-1996 and Distinctions: researchers, networks and award-winning science at the YSM replaced the portraits of deans and others that appeared on the second floor of the SHM. Deans’ portraits have now been moved to the hallway and are displayed along with short biographies.

In front of the medical library on the first floor of the SHM, Portraits of strength, an exhibition of portraits of healthcare providers, scientists and other essential workers at YSM and Yale New Haven Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, replaced the portraits that had hung there for decades . A previous exhibition Self-reflection, featured artwork created by YSM staff, interns and faculty. Portraits of Associate Dean Carolyn W. Slayman, PhD (1937-2016); Professor Dorothy Horstmann, MD (1911-2001); and Beatrix McCleary Hamburg, MD (1923-2018) are also highlighted.

PAPS was created in 2018 to ensure that artwork in YSM’s public spaces reflects the school’s mission and its diverse community. PAPS’ goal is to tell the evolving story of the school through art that acknowledges its history, accomplishments, and culture. The program is supported by the Dean’s office; the Humanities in Medicine Program; the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library.

“When the Art in Public Spaces program was created, we set out to transform the halls of the School of Medicine,” said Darin Latimore, MD, associate dean for diversity and inclusion and co-director of the PAPS. “While our work continues, I think we are moving in the right direction.”

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