Art as Prescription for the Soul: Loyola Med Students, Public Find Solace in Obama’s Likeness, Their Own

Screenshot 2014-10-28 at 8.51.44 AMArtist Jennifer McNulty stands next to her 3-D photo mosaic of President Obama. Below, the photos of various African American firsts are adhered to small tiles that make up Obama’s face. Photo by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.

Screenshot 2014-10-28 at 8.52.25 AMTuesday, October 28, 2014 || By Michael Romain

MAYWOOD | From several feet away, the image appears to be the corrugated face of President Barack Obama. Walk closer, and the smaller images of other black pioneers — Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Paul Robeson, Maya Angelou, W.E.B. DuBois — begin to crystallize.

The act of quietly contemplating each piece is a kind of medicine, a brief but profound respite from the often stressful world of medical study.

“We care for the human soul and art is just another dimension of that, which helps balance the hard science that we live, do and teach on a daily basis,” said Linda Brubaker, MD, MS, Dean and Chief Diversity Officer at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine here in Maywood.

The pieces of art were aligned on the walls of the school’s atrium during an October 13, reception, the first official opening of the installation of photo mosaics by Oak Park-based artist Jennifer McNulty. The current installation, which will be in place for about a month, is one among a series that will feature various local artists. The medical school presented the exhibition in cooperation with the Oak Park Arts League.

Among the crowd of medical students, administrators and faculty members were a family of four from Oak Park, friends of the artist, whose faces were photographed, digitally edited, adhered to glass or mosaic tiles and assembled onto a map of the Chicago region.

McNulty said that for each piece, she conducts hours of research into the lives of those faces adhered to the tiles. For her photo mosaic of Chicagoland, she took extra precaution.

“For the Chicago piece, I really wanted to be sure that each person was born in Chicago and had an impact on Chicago a lot,” she said. “A lot of research was involved, but that’s also the part that gets me intimately acquainted with each piece.”

McNulty obtained her undergraduate degree in advertising from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and has done graduate work in illustration at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. For 15 years, she worked as an illustrator at magazines and newspapers around the country.

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The artist’s current style, however, was inspired when she and her family moved to London for a period.

“I started to see a lot of mosaic tiles everywhere — in old churches and everything — and I thought, ‘How interesting if I could combine my illustration style with these tiles,'” she said. “So, I began to teach myself mosaics.”

McNulty said that the Obama piece took about a month-and-a-half of research and three to four weeks to physically create.

The research process is an excavation of the past. Her art — a Lazarus-like resurrecting of human life and memory once buried in a textbook conception of history.

In her work, the living merge with, are even partly compiled from, the dead — take away Thurgood Marshall’s tile and Obama’s likeness becomes incomplete.

There’s also the relationship of parts to the whole — remove the Oak Park family from the Chicago mosaic and that landscape loses credence.

It’s all a fitting commentary on the hospital complex — an institution dedicated to healing, making whole — in which the work is exhibited.

From Dean Brubaker’s perspective, the exhibit goes even deeper than that.

“Art is another way that we see God’s beauty in everything.” VFP

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