Bioethics Blogs

Reading Medical Artifacts, Contemporary Art and Medical Regimes: Curating Anatomica

Cindy Stelmackowich discusses the themes, objects and relevance of Dalhousie Art Gallery’s Anatomica exhibition.


The current exhibition at the Dalhousie Art Gallery entitled Anatomica displays neglected historical medical artifacts and rare books alongside contemporary artworks with anatomical themes. As the invited curator of the exhibition, I set out to plan an exhibition that would address the complex issue of visualization in medicine. In many respects, I wanted the gallery to function as a space for the study of anatomical texts, artifacts, and artworks that all cross the institutional divisions of art, medicine, pedagogy, and practice. I hoped that through juxtaposition and placement of the old with the contemporary, new conversations about biomedical imagery and artifacts would unfold. My intention therefore was to highlight the unmistakable interconnection between Western medicine, the histories of aesthetics, and the cultural representation of human anatomy.

anatomica bonesArtifacts
The history of anatomy and art is well represented in Anatomica through the display of a stunning collection of rare illustrated atlases, surgical textbooks, and brightly colored pathological portfolios borrowed from Dalhousie’s Killam Library Special Collections. These publications feature detailed woodcuts, engravings, mezzotints, lithographs, and hand-coloured chromolithographic plates that realistically depict the human body. These representations contributed to the professionalization and institutionalization of modern Western anatomical science, and show how the human body was posited as an object of scrutiny, knowledge, and regulation over the course of a couple of centuries.

Accompanying the historical anatomical images and rare books is a diverse set of medical teaching models and texts from the Division of Anatomy within the Department of Medical Neuroscience.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.