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Art exhibit sheds light on lives of those affected by genetic disorders

The exhibit was created to provide more insight into the lives of patients affected by genetic disorders. (Lauren Man/Daily Bruin)

By Celia Janes

March 4, 2019 11:43 p.m.

An art exhibit in Powell Library showcases the hidden impact genetic disorders often have on the lives of UCLA students.

The exhibit, which opened Feb. 19 and will remain open through March in the Powell Library rotunda, showcases various forms of art submitted by five students who have genetic disorders such as lymphoma and cystic fibrosis.

Rushna Raza, a fourth-year molecular, cell, and developmental biology student, said she created the exhibit because of her interest in genetics and because she wanted to provide more insight into the lives of patients affected by these disorders.

“I believe the genetic and the social perspectives are both important because patients’ lives go beyond what meets the eye,” she said. “Those stories never get told unless you ask.”

The exhibit features five pieces of visual and interactive artwork created by students that aim to educate others on the invisible suffering caused by genetic disorders, Raza said. Some students chose to focus on illnesses that affect them directly, while others explored genetic diseases that have affected their loved ones. The projects also reflected the roles these heritable diseases have played throughout their families’ histories.

Chelsea Krob, a fourth-year art student who has autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, created a multimedia gallery to raise awareness of her illness.

Her project, “Through Your Journey,” tells the story of her struggle with PKD through photos and a digital recording of a conversation between Krob and her father, who died from the same illness in May.

“My project aims to look at the intergenerational effects of this disease and also my unique relationship with my dad, since we both have (PKD),” she said.

Krob’s portion of the exhibit also features a wall on which observers can add their handprints with ink. She said she was inspired by a previous project concept in which she planned to represent every day of her father’s life through thumbprints.

Raza said the handprint wall represents how everyone is unique due to small differences in their genomes. Similarly, even though human handprints have the same basic shape, small variations make them unique. Raza said this aspect of the exhibit allows students to participate in and leave their own mark on the artwork.

Krob said she hopes observers can gain a better understanding of the lives of people with PKD through her project.

“I used multiple approaches to give the viewer, wherever they’re at with life or death, an entry point into the work,” she said.

Hollie St. Claire, who graduated from UCLA in fall 2018, portrayed the impact of cystic fibrosis in her life through her carving, “Breaking Through.” Three of St. Claire’s siblings have the disease and she recently learned she is a carrier. She said she hopes to show that people with cystic fibrosis are strong and that there is hope for a cure.

To demonstrate the strength of those with cystic fibrosis, St. Claire created a painted carving that depicts an individual pushing against an arch containing strands of DNA. She said she aims to challenge the notion that individuals with cystic fibrosis are weak or fragile.

“The individual in my carving is breaking through the barriers of genetic restrictions,” she said.

Ketana Chadalavada, a fourth-year psychology student who designed the exhibit’s online graphics, said her painting “Survivor” represents her struggle with lymphoma, which she was diagnosed with last year.

She said her portrayal of a bald figure demonstrates her reclaiming ownership of her body. The lime green ribbon over the figure’s heart is an official symbol of lymphoma awareness and ties the painting to the broader lymphoma community.

“I really wanted to show the mental side to my story, including how I coped with (lymphoma) and what I learned from it,” Chadalavada said.

In addition to raising awareness for genetic disorders, Raza added she created the exhibit because she was interested in combining science and art. She said even though she does not consider herself to be an artist, she is proud to have put together a project that allows students to tell their personal stories through art.

“I wanted this project to be a chance for students to share that intimate part of their history through an artistic platform,” she said.

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