Harvard Macy Community Blog

Fostering the ongoing connectedness of health professions educators committed to transforming health care delivery and education.

Ali John Zarrabi

Add as Friend Message author Subscribe to updates from author

Ali John Zarrabi, MD (Art Museum Fellowship ’19) is a physician and Assistant Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine and Internal Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. His clinical, education, and research pursuits are devoted to investigating and promoting the healthy adaptation of adults who live with serious illness. His areas of professional interest include arts-based pedagogy and nonpharmacologic strategies for treating chronic pain in seriously ill patients.  Ali John can be followed on Twitter or contacted via email.

Art as Antidote: Fostering Empathy, Self-Knowledge, and Resilience in the Art Museum

This past spring, my palliative care colleagues and I sat down in front of Kara Walker’s artwork titled The Jubilant Martyrs of Obsolescence and Ruin at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. For thirty minutes, we slowed down, turned off our cell phones and pagers, and looked slowly and intently at this 58-foot massive cut-paper work. Like the other works of art we studied in the museum, our docent facilitator began the conversation by asking us the following question: What is going on in this artwork?  Some saw a scene of incredible violence. Others saw a satiric commentary on the American Civil War.  One remarked on figures representing different races and identities. Another commented on gender and sexuality portrayed in the work. With each comment, the facilitator asked: What do you see that makes you say that? Our eyes sharpened and our language became more precise with each passing comment.  For example, when a participant was asked to clarify her remark on different eras of American history portrayed in this image, she honed in on the figure in the upper right of the artwork who appears to be wearing a suit. To her, he represented an African American figure from the Civil Rights era more than from the Civil War. The facilitator acknowledged and paraphrased her comment, and then continued: What more can we find?

Recent Comments
Maha Pervaz Iqbal


Thank you for this interesting blog. I resonate with what you say about developing the soft yet critical skills of physicians thr... Read More
Wednesday, 22 April 2020 12:12 AM
Guest — Mark Stephens

Wonderful Post!

Thank you so much for posting this refreshing and highly educational post Ali John! Love the work that you are doing. Keep it up... Read More
Saturday, 25 April 2020 6:06 PM
Continue reading
2119 Hits