Buchanan Fellow explores disease and isolation in new pop-up exhibit at Central Library

Lia Okenkova

A new student exhibit at Central Library explores the connection between disease and isolation while drawing parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lia Okenkova, a junior cognitive studies and educational studies major from Naples, Florida, created “Depictions of Leprosy: Isolation for the Ages,” which features art and literature from the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery and Central Library, as well as original poetry, that relates to historical and creative representations of leprosy. Okenkova’s pop-up exhibit, now on display in the Central Library’s fourth-floor lobby, is part of the Art of Healing Exposition, a large-scale project featuring works from the World Health Organization’s Art to Act for Health initiative and Nashville-area artists displayed across Vanderbilt’s campus and the city through December 2022.

While considering the Art of Healing theme, Okenkova was drawn to the idea of medical illustrations as an art form, she said. “After digging through the stacks of Central Library, I came across this incredibly vivid—and creepily beautiful—book: The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration by Richard Barnett,” she said. “The shocking illustrations of leprosy, especially, called to me in the midst of our own pandemic.

To curate her exhibit, Okenkova explored the vast Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries system, from Special Collections and University Archives to the Fine Arts Gallery to the History of Medicine Collection at Eskind Biomedical Library to the many floors of Central Library. “The archivists, librarians and staff helped me hone my research skills and think of research in new ways,” she said.

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