I’ve currently enrolled in a graduate certificate in Health Humanities and Bioethics. The students in the class are from all areas of healthcare: physicians, medical students, physical therapists, nurses and nurse educators, and me a visual anthropologist. Our class this week focused on “the gaze”, the way we view the medical community and their interaction with their patients. We read works by William Carlos Williams retelling his account with a child who was suspected of having diphtheria. The conversation switched to the visual of medicine; paintings capturing doctors performing autopsies, and then paintings showing doctors caring for their patients.
Williams has written many books of poetry focusing on his experience as a physician. He captures the struggles he experienced being a physician, and simultaneously flipping to express the perceived experience of the patient. He’s honest in his accounts, not trying to sugar coat the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a physician.
We moved on to other depictions of illness and disease and on the screen, was a self-portrait done by Frida Kahlo. Kahlo had polio as a child. She then was involved in a very bad accident and was bedridden for a long period of time. It was during that time that her parents put a mirror under the canopy of her bed so she could see herself. It was during this time that she drew/painted many self-portraits. Throughout her life she was her most prominent subject. Her honesty shows us her determination to tell her own story with truth by painting in-you-face self-portraits.
Kahlo’s work punctuates the desire, even need to tell one’s story. She shared her life and a visual autobiography. Her paintings showed what’s possible following a life challenge by depicting strength and vulnerability. It’s clear that she was motivated internally to get her message out to the public. Her works are an inspiration to those who are facing life altering events.
What do you need to tell us? How will you use your internal creative instincts to share your truth, the story of your life? View some of Kahlo’s work and see what moves you and works you. It’s an interesting way to see what serves as a catalyst for telling your life story.