Transforming the art on our walls

Four years ago, images of women were virtually non-existent in the most widely used public spaces at the Yale School of Medicine (YSM).

That changed in mid-2019 with the opening of Aperture: Portraits of women, medical teachers. The exhibit, sponsored by the YSM Art in Public Spaces program, can be viewed on the second floor of Sterling Hall of Medicine. Featuring photographic portraits by New Haven photographer Robert Lysak, the exhibit — originally intended to run for about a year — is still going strong.

Aperture was inspired by the celebration of the 100th anniversary of women at the YSM, when many of the photographic portraits were taken by Lisak. The photographer subsequently gave prints of the portraits to YSM as a gift, paving the way for the exhibition. Already updated once with new portraits, Aperture will undergo a third iteration this spring. In the meantime, the exhibit is being updated with some new Lisak portraits and updated label text.

“The exhibit received such an overwhelmingly positive response that we decided it needed to remain to continue to honor women faculty and inspire members of the medical school community,” said Anna Reisman, PhD, director of the Medical Humanities Program and co-director of the YSM Program for Art in Public Spaces (PAPS), which sponsored the exhibition.

“Every time I feel discouraged as a young, aspiring doctor, I walk down this hallway and remember why I do what I do and pursue my dreams,” Saira Munshani, a research assistant in Dr. Barbara Ehrlich’s lab, wrote in a book with comments accompanying the exhibit. “The amazing women in STEM, both on this wall and off, inspire me to persevere, work hard and keep asking questions. To this day, nothing makes me feel as excited as how I feel after reading their stories and advice and I know I hope that one day I can be as strong, smart and powerful as they are .

Aperture refers to a space or gap, a title that was an allusion to the dearth of women on SHM’s walls 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 Crisis: Yale, New Haven, and HIV/AIDS, 1981-1996. and Acknowledgments: Researchers, Networks and Science Award Winners at YSM have replaced the portraits of deans and others that were a fixture on the second floor of the SHM. The dean’s portraits have now been moved down the corridor and are on display alongside brief biographies.

Outside the medical library on the first floor of SHM, Portraits of the Force, a portrait exhibit of health care 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. An earlier exhibit, Self reflection, featured artwork created by YSM staff, interns and faculty. Portraits of Associate Dean Carolyn W. Slayman, PhD (1937-2016); Professor Dorothy Horstman, PhD (1911-2001); and Dr. Beatrix McCleary Hamburg (1923-2018) are also prominently displayed.

PAPS was established in 2018 to ensure that artwork in YSM’s public areas reflects the school’s mission and diverse community. PAPS aims to tell the school’s evolving story through art that recognizes its history, achievements and culture. The program is implemented with the support of the Dean’s Office; Humanities in Medicine Program; 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 corridors of the School of Medicine,” said Darin Lattimore, MD, associate dean for diversity and inclusion and co-director of PAPS. “Although we’re still a work in progress, I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

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