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Transforming the Art on Our Walls

October 24, 2022

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

That changed in mid 2019 with the opening of Aperture: Portraits of Women Faculty in Medicine. The exhibit, sponsored by the YSM Program for Art in Public Spaces, can be viewed on the second floor of Sterling Hall of Medicine. Featuring photographic portraits by New Haven photographer Robert Lisak, the exhibit—originally intended to last approximately one year—is still going strong.

Aperture was inspired by the 100 Years of Women at YSM celebration, 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 exhibit. Already updated once with new portraits, Aperture will undergo a third iteration this spring. In the meantime, the exhibit is being refreshed with some new portraits by Lisak and updated label text.

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

“Every time I feel discouraged as a young, aspiring female physician, I walk down this hallway and remember why I am doing what I do and chasing my dreams, wrote Saira Munshani, research assistant in the lab of Barbara Ehrlich, PhD, in the comment book that accompanies the exhibit. “The incredible women in STEM, both on this wall and not, inspire me to be persistent, 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 knowing that hopefully, one day I can be as strong, intelligent, and powerful as they are.”

Aperture refers to a space or gap, a title that was a nod to the paucity of women on the walls of SHM when the exhibit opened. Since then, PAPS has mounted a series of exhibits 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 a Time of Crisis: Yale, New Haven, and HIV/AIDS, 1981-1996 and Accolades: Researchers, Networks, and Prizewinning Science at YSM have replaced the portraits of deans and others that were a fixture on the second floor of SHM. The dean portraits have now been moved down the hall and are displayed along with short biographies.

Outside the medical library on the first floor of SHM, Portraits of Strength, a portrait exhibit of health care providers, scientists, and other essential workers across YSM and Yale New Haven Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, has replaced the portraits that hung there for decades. An earlier exhibit, Self-Reflection, featured artwork created by YSM staff, trainees, and faculty. Portraits of Deputy Dean Carolyn W. Slayman, PhD (1937-2016); Professor Dorothy Horstmann, MD (1911-2001); and Beatrix McCleary Hamburg, MD (1923-2018) are also prominently displayed.

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

“When the Program for Art in Public Spaces was formed, we set out to transform the hallways at the School of Medicine,” said Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean for diversity and inclusion and co-director of PAPS. “Although our work is ongoing, I think we are moving in the right direction.”

Submitted by Jill Max on October 24, 2022