View the original article from URBest
by Rachel Walker, PhD Graduate Student
Published on December 29, 2016
As 2017 begins, many of you have noticed some changes – including that one of the Microbiology conference rooms is being converted into an art studio to be used by our new artist-in-residence Charmaine Wheatley. Wheatley will be focusing on two areas during her residency with the University of Rochester, reducing the social stigmas around mental illness and HIV.
Wheatley’s father was a sign painter, and she took his artistic leanings further. First, she attended Nova Scotia College of Art & Design where, along with artistic techniques, she developed her critical thinking skills. She then studied at Cooper Union and has subsequently served as an Artist-in Residence for various organizations since 2006. She has produced an amazingly diverse portfolio of drawings, watercolors, live performance pieces, and published four books. Wheatley enjoys representing the unknown, and submerging herself into a different environment helps to challenge perspective.
We asked Charmaine some questions related to her work experiences:
What does it mean to be an artist-in-residence?
CW: For me, it means to sink into a community, a culture outside of anything I am familiar, with complete devotion for an extended period of focused study, reflection, and creation. To let that culture inform my outlook and in exchange be the community’s mirror of sorts. To learn and also be of service. To be an honest and loving friend to the chosen community. It’s wonderful to put oneself in an unfamiliar environment. We learn quickly how to shift outlooks, enlist creativity to problem solve new situations. It broadens one’s outlook and makes us flexible to adjust and adapt to change more fluidly, as if you were surfing the waves.
What does an average day look like for you?
CW: Hard to say. Lists that I keep checking things off of, prioritizing, amending, then something else comes up that’s important and things shift again. All my days flow. I wake up, make coffee, and do as much as I can in the day. It’s important for me to enjoy everything… if I’m not enjoying, I stop for reflection, perhaps shift my attitude, draw more, organize, do something kind for anyone, these things bring joy back into my activities which is important.
What skills are most important in what you do?
CW: To always be in the question. Being open and having a sense of play and a curiosity about all that is around. Making connections. Caring for details. Understanding the difference between that which is not equally important and that which seems to be. Craft helps to communicate more effectively.
During her time at the University of Rochester, Wheatley will be focusing on reducing stigma around two topics: those who live with mental illness and individuals with HIV. Part of her work will encompass creating a panoramic view of these communities by interviewing and connecting with patients, family members, scientists, healthcare providers, and graduate students studying related topics. During these conversations, Wheatley will create portraits of individuals using watercolors, pens and perhaps oil on canvas. She will be using space in the Psychiatry Department (Room G-9051) along with the Microbiology and Immunology Department (Room 2-11005C). This project will also include outreach with the Mental Health Association, and other communities may become involved during her time here.
While these interviews are largely a personal connection, Wheatley may participate in more public engagements. Some possibilities include giving talks to raise awareness about the project, managing exhibitions of her work, and potentially creating printed reproductions of her art. Wheatley has done similar work in her previous residencies. In fact, it was during a previous showing of her artwork at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston that Stephen Dewhurst discovered Wheatley’s work and initiated this project. A brief description of the exhibition Charmaine Wheatley: Souvenirs is available here. Since then, selected portraits from this series have been installed in the Gardner’s Contemporary building (a few select portraits are shared here).
Her Artist-In-Residency and initiatives here have several sponsors, including the Center for AIDS Research, the Department of Psychiatry, the Division of Medical Humanities and Bioethics, URBEST, the Office of the SMD Vice Dean for Research, the School of Nursing, as well as programmatic support from the Memorial Art Gallery, the Neuroscience Program, and the Department of Art and Art History.
As this project develops, we will provide updates about possible talks and exhibits. You may also visit her website for more details.