A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Healing Through Art


Artists explore chronic illness and medicine in new Medical School exhibition.

Lynn Paquin’s painting Trapped, now on display in The Warren Alpert Medical School, is a deeply personal creation. A woman, confined within the canvas, holds on to herself and provides some measure of comfort.

Paquin, a Newport-based artist, herself suffers from a chronic illness that, when not well-managed, can make her feel awful.

“She and the pose were imagined, but I believe she is recognizable to anyone who has been chronically ill,” Paquin says. “It can be lonely and scary.”

Paquin’s artwork, and by extension her story, is one of more than 40 submissions featured throughout March in Exploring Chronic Illness and Medicine Through Art, a new exhibit curated by the Gold Humanism Honor Society. The group hosted an opening event March 6, with paintings, sculptures, and other works displayed throughout the first-floor atrium. Paquin and other artists from Brown and the Providence area share their personal narratives as part of an effort that the student group hopes will “bridge the societally perceived divide between doctors and patients and center humanism in medicine.”

The exhibit organizers, society members Isabella Berglund-Brown MD’24, Andres Amaya ScM’24 MD’24, Jessica I. Jordan MD’24, and Kelvin Chang ’16 MD’24, cast a wide net across Rhode Island and neighboring states calling for submissions.

“I would say the majority of the artists don’t have a direct connection with Brown, which is really exciting because we wanted it to mirror the patient population locally,” Berglund-Brown says.

The art show is a natural extension of the society, which centers humanism in medicine through author visits, book discussions, poetry, and music. For some students, like Jordan, the prospect of organizing an exhibit around chronic illness held personal significance.

“My cousin, who I’m very close with, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 4 years old, and uses art as a way to process that and highlight the positives, the negatives, and the public experience with that,” Jordan says.

Art has always had a place in Berglund-Brown’s family as well. Her mother is a children’s book writer, and her grandmother created art as she battled a chronic illness.

“We thought about how lots of different patients have used art to think about their illness, their relationships to themselves, and relationships with medicine in general,” Berglund-Brown says.

Delayed Cord Clamping, by Ophelia Arc

Ophelia Arc, of New York City, submitted a textile sculpture that explores the relationships between mother and children and the psychological effects of familial illness. In Delayed Cord Clamping, a figure representing a child is looking at its mother, shown as a carcass—hollowed out yet present. While an umbilical cord is still attached to the child, the figure is at a distance, and the child only sees itself reflecting back, Arc says.

Arc says it felt crucial for her to participate in the show.

“As a sculptor with aspirations to create art for psychiatric hospitals, I found this to be a perfect setting for my work to be appreciated for its technical quality and to be discussed conceptually, addressing medicine and health, specifically in terms of mental illness,” she says.

Jordan and Berglund-Brown hope the art show will become a regular event, as the response from artists has been positive. The exhibit upholds the society’s goal of centering humanism, and also helps address the perceived “us versus them” mentality that might exist between doctors and patients in certain situations.

“We all acknowledge that people may not have had the best interaction with the health care system throughout their time with chronic illness, so I think it’s so important to highlight these folks and uplift them as people,” Berglund-Brown says. “There are a lot of medical students and physicians who have their own medical problems themselves, and some of them are participating in the show too.”

“I just felt so humbled and grateful that so many people wanted to share their art with us and the community,” Jordan adds. “It’s been a really exciting process.”

The Warren Alpert Medical School, 222 Richmond St., Providence, is open to the public 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.


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