Opalka Gallery launches pilot program with Russell Sage nursing department

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Upon entering Opalka Gallery, viewers are immediately greeted with a series of four, wall-spanning torsos of breast cancer patients by Clarity Haynes. The paintings are paired with a silent video of Haynes painting the portraits, transforming the women featured from objects hung on a gallery wall to animated subjects with names, voices and personalities.

The gallery’s newest exhibition “Some Bodies: Subject, Object, and Identity in Nursing, Medicine, and Art” explores the role of the body as both object to be studied and subject, the actual human being, in art — a duality medical professionals also navigate when assessing patients. This shared connection between the worlds of art and medicine was a deliberate background to the show’s curation, which compliments a new pilot training program between Opalka and Russell Sage College’s Department of Nursing.

“Hopefully this is the beginning of a relationship where they’ll see us as a resource in their academic process,” said Judie Gilmore, Opalka Gallery’s director of special programs.

Opalka Gallery and the nursing department wanted to do some sort of collaboration to celebrate the nursing department’s 100th anniversary. The idea of a nursing-focused exhibit was floated, but Gilmore wanted to do something more interactive between the gallery and the nursing students and faculty.

“Some Bodies: Subject, Object, and Identity in Nursing, Medicine, and Art”

  • When: opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 11; runs through Jan. 7
  • Where: Opalka Gallery, Russell Sage College, 140 New Scotland Ave, Albany
  • Admission is free and open to the public

“A conversation with author Rachel E. Gross and artist Armando Veve: Visual inspiration for Rachel E. Gross’s ‘Vagina Obscura’ ” co-sponsored by the Opalka Gallery and The Women’s Institute at Russell Sage College

  • When: 6 p.m. Nov. 15
  • Where: Opalka Gallery, Russell Sage College, 140 New Scotland Ave, Albany
  • Registration: Pre-registration is available, but not required, online. Admission is free and open to the public.

 


After falling down a rabbit hole of articles and research about integrating the arts into medical education, Gilmore proposed adding a Visual Thinking Strategies program, an arts education model that uses facilitated discussions about visual art to improve observation, communication and critical thinking skills, to the nursing department’s curriculum. Research has shown that these arts-based programs improved medical students’ clinical assessments of patients, she said. The nursing department was on-board.

Gilmore and Amy Griffin, the interim director for Opalka, will use a series of neutral, non-judgmental questions to guide nursing students through observing and discussing works shown in “Some Bodies.” There is no “right” answer to the questions, Griffin said. 

“If you get what the artist is trying to get across, that’s great,” she said. “But if you get something else, I would imagine most artists would be thrilled to know that. (Visual Thinking Strategies) is great to have a way into talking about art for people who don’t normally talk about art.” 

The system can be applied to any art — a VTS study with Harvard Medical School in 2005 used a Jackson Pollock painting to study texture and pattern, for example — not just works that focus on the human bodies, though Gilmore intentionally curated “Some Bodies” to support the new program.

“I thought for this first pilot, let’s make it really accessible for the nursing students by making it something about the figure,” she said.

Some works featured in”Some Bodies,” which runs Nov. 11 through Jan. 7, directly relate to the medical world. A video and a series of photographs by Corinne Botz were created from training sessions for medical students where actors posed as patients, and Armando Veve’s graphite drawings of clitorises, ovaries and neurons in surreal, sci-fi settings merge the anatomical with the fantastical. Others examine the body from a non-medical perspective, including Sarah Sweeney’s “Reimagining Erica,” a controversial examination of autonomy and ownership in a digital world through an Instagram account that edits images of a woman cut out of pictures uploaded by a stranger to a public Flickr album.

Gilmore and Griffin hope the pilot is successful so the program can continue with future exhibits on any subject, not just the human body.

“Art isn’t just a luxury, it’s a real tool,” Gilmore said. “It can be used for all kinds of things.”

 

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