In the eye of the beholder

15 May 2006

Art at work: Head of the Division of Human Genetics and director of the MRC/UCT Human Genetics Research Unit, Prof Raj Ramesar with his original acrylic artwork depicting the emotional gamut experienced by those suffering from bipolar disorder. (Inset) Jonathan Savitz is the first author of the paper and Cinda-Lee Cupido is a co-author.

Most academic offerings to medical research journals offer little by way of eye-catching illustrations; usually a graph or two; sometimes something a little more exotic, like a depiction of metabolic pathways. Not so for Professor Raj Ramesar's latest offering.

His suggestion of an authentic artwork to illustrate a co-authored paper in a prestigious international scientific/medical journal PloS Medicine, in the field of psychiatric genetics, got the thumbs up.

The bold acrylic composition is one of Ramesar's own artworks and illustrates an article titled Trends in Suicidology; Personality as an endophenotype for molecular genetic investigations.

The first author is Jonathan Savitz, one of Ramesar's PhD students (he recently submitted his PhD thesis for examination), and co-author Cindy-Lee Cupido (another of Ramesar's PhD students, who graduated in December).

"Both students investigated different genetic aspects of bipolar disorder or manic depression," Ramesar said.

This group of disorders causes enormous morbidity and mortality and is the subject of intensive international research.

"It is unusual for artwork to be published, but the editors saw fit to publish this work, which is meant to capture the swathes of emotions experienced by individuals tortured by depression, sometimes leading to suicide."

The essence of the painting, one of the first Ramesar has done in acrylic (he likes water colours) is to capture emotion in colour; and to illustrate the familiality which is seen in association with some psychiatric illnesses and chemistry in this era of relating brain to behaviour (interestingly, a signature theme adopted recently by UCT).

Ramesar is part of the Western Cape Painting Doctors Group who exhibit their work at Constantiaberg and Kingsbury Hospitals, drawing plenty of interest - and even some sales.

(See it here)

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