Aboriginal art meets microscopy

Westmead Hospital has become the first health institution in Australia to host an art exhibition that explores the interplay between new Indigenous artwork and images from cutting-edge microscopy.

Stories and Structures – New Connections presented by Microscopy Australia, pairs images created from high-tech electron microscopes with responsive new artworks.

The idea was borne from Microscopy Australia’s Dr Jenny Whiting who observed the similarity between one of the exhibition micrographs (an electron microscope image) and Aboriginal art.

“The synergy is as intriguing as it is compelling,” Dr Whiting said.

“Twenty-one Indigenous artists were invited to explore the interplay between their country, its stories and its structures at the microscopic scale.”

All the artworks have been purchased to maintain the exhibition as a permanent collection, designed to connect Aboriginal youth with science.

“We want to encourage more Indigenous Australians to study and pursue careers in science or technology and to bring valuable diversity and cross-cultural skills to the sector.

“The title Stories and Structures – New Connections reflects a new way of seeing our county and its stories: connecting cultures, connecting traditional and western ways of knowing, connecting ideas and most of all, connecting people.”

Westmead Redevelopment’s director of redesign and transformation Carla Edwards said it was exciting to have this exhibition in a hospital setting.

“It’s a really interesting overlay of art and science,” she said.

“Research tells us that art in the health context promotes healing and a provides a better experience for patients and their families.”

The exhibition is part of Westmead Redevelopment’s Arts and Culture strategy aimed to embed art and culture into the new hospital building opening in 2020.

Aboriginal liaison officer for Western Sydney Local Health District Narelle Holden said it was fantastic to see how Aboriginal people’s artwork could take on many forms.

“This artwork comes from their dreaming and of the stories handed down through generations,” Ms Holden said. “To see it and compare it with the microscopic world is sensational.

“Aboriginal people have documented things they have seen since they have walked upon this traditional mother land. To have this artwork here at Westmead Hospital is a cultural stepping stone, in gaining knowledge and understanding of two worlds entwining as one.”

Professor Dominic Dwyer, director of Public Health Pathology, said the Research Hub and the Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research laboratory at Westmead Hospital would soon have two new electron microscopes.

“Our electron microscopes are used to diagnose diseases such as cause of kidney failure and infectious diseases,” Prof Dwyer said.

“It’s extraordinary to see high-tech digital images displayed as fascinating artworks.”

The exhibition will feature on level two of the Westmead Hospital foyer near the post office, until the end of January.

Cultural stepping stone … Aboriginal liaison officer Narelle Holden is drawn to `Witchetty Grub Dreaming’. The painting is partnered at the Stories and Structures exhibition with a micrograph showing sperm growing in a moth’s testis.