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Don’t Miss Dr. Shay This Sunday at MAG

Dr. Jonathan ShayThis coming Sunday’s lecture (February 8th at 3:00 PM) by Dr. Jonathan Shay has been in the works for several years. What initially might seem a stretch for the Memorial Art Gallery–to host a lecture by a distinguished psychiatrist whose specialty is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder–actually has an intriguing history of its own and more connected than is immediately apparent.

In 2004, a docent-in-training, discovered Dr. Shay’s two books Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trails of Homecoming as she was researching a 17th century painting in the Memorial Art Gallery’s collection, Ulysses on the Island of the Phaeacians, from the studio of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). The connection? The scene represented in MAG‘s painting is the last stop of Odysseus’s (latin name: Ulysses) 10 year homecoming voyage following the Trojan War. The painting reveals a naked, older man in the foreground emerging out of the underbrush (where he has spent the night) and reaching out toward a gathering of young women. He is literally stripped of everything of his past glory. In the upper left hand corner of the painting, staged on a cloud bank, Odysseus’s patron goddess Athena pleads with the other gods to end the trials that have been cast again and again on his path. We know from the story that she prevails, and he is finally permitted to return home, to Ithaca.

What the docent learned in reading Shay’s books was the extraordinary coincidence he uncovered between Odysseus’s experiences and those of the veterans he was treating. Odysseus’s “adventures” during his lost decade–waylaid by the Lotus Eaters, Cyclops, the Sirens, and Calypso–resonated with haunting similarity to the years Vietnam veterans struggled to adapt to civilian society. For this docent, a 17th century mythological painting suddenly had unanticipated but compelling connections with the contemporary world!

Fast-forward to the summer of 2008–when the Memorial Art Gallery committed to exhibiting the work of Gregory Van Maanen, a visionary self-taught artist who acknowledges that he suffers with a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the discussion about bringing Dr. Shay to Rochester was raised again, with a new level of relevance. Joining the Gallery in extending the initial invitation to speak was the Division of Medical Humanities of the University of Rochester Medical Center, a department with which the Gallery works closely on a number of educational projects related to art and medicine.

Dr. Shay will speak at the Gallery at 3:00 PM. Admission to the lecture is included in the cost of Gallery admission.

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