Students enrolled in FIU’s Honors College course, History of Medicine through the Arts, taught by Dr. Amilcar Castellano-Sanchez, visited the Frost Art Museum over the course of this year to organize Art and Empathy: Selections from the Collection of the Frost Art Museum. By analyzing other exhibitions on view and consulting materials in the museum’s print study room, the student curators learned about the process of creating an exhibition—from caring for objects to writing exhibition labels.
Each student undertook research on a work of art and produced its label. As a group, they discussed the checklist, made final selections and debated the physical presentation of the exhibition. The virtual viewing experience exemplifies the students’ immersion in the curatorial process of interpreting and making meaning through visual art.
The exhibition presents modern and contemporary photographs and works on paper. Drawn entirely from the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum’s collection, the works have been selected for their diverse expressions of empathy.
While works by David Alfaro Siqueiros and Ruth Orkin highlight relationships among immediate family members, prints by Reginald Marsh and Ben Shahn depict economic hardship and emotional pain. Other works by José Bedia and Francisco Amighetti express the enduring emotional connection between humans and animals.
Many of the works in the exhibition have rarely been on view or are recent gifts to the collection. History of Medicine through the Arts, an ongoing course, examines how medical history is portrayed in various forms of art.
Here are some reflections from the students on the notion of empathy in the face of the current health crisis.
Melissa Borrero, biology major:
"In difficult times we must show empathy toward those people who are struggling. Also, we need to understand the situation they are going through and show our support. This coronavirus crisis serves to move from an individual perspective to think in community and collectively. When we assume the responsibility to stay at home, it is nice because it represents not only self-care but also a collective sense of caring for others, whom we don't necessarily know. In the vast majority of occasions, having emotional support and empathy is of great value, mainly because it helps others not to feel alone when facing difficulties."
Sofia De Paz, chemistry major:
"When one speaks of empathy, I immediately think of the concept of genuine friendship, as having empathy signifies giving part of yourself to help lift your neighbor up. In light of coronavirus, empathy is being conscious of every, single person around you and taking wise decisions that will not endanger any person, especially those more susceptible to getting sick.
In my future career as a medical professional, empathy is at the core of what a doctor should embody because of the constant conversations held with vulnerable patients."
Alejandra Nogueira, biochemistry and liberal studies double major:
"I think people right now need to be extremely empathetic because practicing social distancing for the health of others requires a great amount of understanding and sympathy. I think individuals right now need to think as a collective and about the health and well-being of their communities, not just their own. Social distancing, quarantining and self-isolating all become much easier when you know you are doing it for those who are immunocompromised and elderly, or whoever else cannot handle such an illness.
"I also believe all health care professionals around the world would benefit from from people feeling their struggle and understanding that the best thing they can do is stay home as much as possible."
Dariana Sedfono, psychology major:
“Due to the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, empathy has taken on a new meaning for me. In the middle of this crisis, now more than ever, I feel empathetic. For the thousands of people in China, Italy, and Spain who have been affected severely by this disease. For the thousands of people around the globe that have lost their loved ones or have been isolated from them for countless weeks. For the health professionals in every country affected that have been working and fighting endlessly to save all of those infected. Lastly, for the elderly population that have a disadvantage in the midst of chaos and fear their lives end sooner than anticipated.
"It is important for all of us to remember that at times of desperation and fear, empathy is the only feeling that can bring the world together to fight against the unknown.”