The Art of Queer Health Sciences
School of Nursing
The Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities
I'm often exposed to the emotions, sadness and healing behind the numbers—and my experience has made it clear that traditional ways of sharing research aren't designed to express emotion in the same way art is. If our work as researchers took up space in the same way art does, that could help the people we work with feel seen. We expect communities to be vulnerable with us when participating in research, so why not also create a pipeline for creatives who exist in those communities to process that vulnerability and share it in a way that's respectful, disarming and accessible?
Tanaka Chavanduka, a researcher at the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities, was inspired to reconsider his communication methods after a trip to a national conference on HIV in Washington, D.C. While there, he had the chance to visit the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, after which he began to realize the disconnect that often exists between the communities researchers work with, and the research itself. Using this experience as his inspiration, Project Manager Chanvanduka organized a new community art exhibition, with the goal to explore what happens when science prioritizes empathy.
The exhibition, "The Art of Queer Health Sciences," was on view in the windows of several downtown Ann Arbor businesses until May 5. Locations include Cahoots, Abracadabra, Vault of Midnight, Vinology, Thrive Juicery, Avalon Cafe, Bløm Meadworks and Zingerman's Greyline. There is also an online gallery of the work.
The artwork included in the exhibition aimed to communicate research findings from the CSHD, whose mission is to improve sexual and reproductive health and reduce health disparities in marginalized communities—with a specific focus on sexual and gender minorities. Chavanduka worked with Renee Pitter, CSHD research programs manager and exhibition coordinator, to hand select four student artists from the U-M Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design—all of whom self-identify as queer—to participate.
- Michelle Munro-Kramer, assistant professor of nursing, worked with student artist Noe Conahan to present her research on the dynamics of power and control tactics among college students.
- Rob Stephenson, professor of nursing and CSHD director, who worked with student artist Jenna John to interpret research related to an intervention he created called Stronger Together for serodiscordant male couples (one is HIV positive, one is HIV negative) that focuses on teaching them to work together toward common goals.
- Sarah Peitzmeier, assistant professor of nursing, also worked with student artist Coyne Gatto to interpret her study that aims to understand what sexual violence against transgender and nonbinary college undergraduates looks like. The study will be used to create an the first intervention designed to prevent unwanted sexual experiences and sexual assault specifically for trans and nonbinary undergraduates.
- Akshay Sharma, assistant professor of nursing, researched the acceptability and feasibility of self-collecting biological specimens for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, specifically among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. Sharma worked with student artist Shalin Berman.
Chavanduka and Pitter hope this project will inspire other scientists and researchers to think about how science can drive empathy and knowledge by engaging with art. And with greater collaboration between researchers and artists, both groups will have the chance to share their work in spaces with audiences they may not have been able to reach otherwise.