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Acrylics, pastels, and skin disease

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2010 - Autumn


During four days in April, medical student Alexander Marzuka, a member of the Class of 2012, had on display four paintings that reflected his feelings about skin disease.

“I wanted to challenge the image that skin diseases are trivial and not important because they are often not life-threatening,” said Marzuka, who grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, before coming to the United States to attend the University of Texas. “They can have a profound impact on a person’s self-esteem, social life, and body image. I really wanted to understand what it was like to live with these diseases.”

The paintings, made on gessoed paper (paper coated with an acrylic calcium carbonate primer) with acrylic paints and pastels, depict psoriasis, melanoma, the autoimmune depigmentation disease vitiligo, and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL). The paintings—a year in the making and funded by the Program for Humanities in Medicine—were on display in the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library. Marzuka researched the medical aspects of the paintings by reading the writings of a patient with psoriasis and meeting with survivors of melanoma and CTCL. He also consulted dermatology textbooks. “All the paintings show the psychosocial impact of the disease,” he said.