For me and many of my classmates, it was our initial interest in the arts that led us to eventually pursue dentistry. Whether it was handwritten calligraphy, playing musical instruments, photography, or even graphic design, being able to use our creative processes to better serve the oral health needs of our communities was a perfect match. Although our focus has shifted from the aesthetic to the esthetic, we are still able to build and create things for others using our hands.
Art led us to dentistry, but sometimes we see the reverse – when science and dentistry become a source of inspiration for artists. My curiosity one day led me to a Google search for “dentistry in art,” which yielded several rather interesting results: 17th and 18th century paintings of men surrounding a grimacing patient being treated, carvings of demons and spirits in teeth, and even pairs of shoes lined by human teeth. Yikes.
The idea of science leading to art was quickly forgotten until recently, when I came across an artist that incorporated ecology into his works of contemporary art. Alejandro Duran, a multimedia artist born in Mexico City and now based in Brooklyn, NY, takes much of his inspiration from the interplay of man and nature. He developed a series called Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape to generate awareness of plastic pollution in our oceans and how excess consumption has negatively impacted our environment.
Duran collected plastic waste that had washed up on the Caribbean coast of Mexico from 50 different nations, and across 6 continents, to create colorful, site-specific art installations throughout Sia Ka’an, Mexico’s largest federally-protected reserve. He arranges the plastic items into natural forms found in the environment – clear bottle “pools” of water in marshes, blue plastic “waves” on a beach, and even a rainbow array of plastic bottle caps to represent the characteristic holographic sheen of oil spills. One notable installation shows a colorful assortment of toothbrushes stuck upright in the ground and arranged alongside the natural plant shoots they were meant to mimic. This juxtaposition between the synthetic plastics and the natural world really highlights his message – his belief that consumerism and waste are slowly colonizing the land, and that even undeveloped parts of nature are not safe from its impact.
Multimedia artists such as Duran offer a unique perspective and a unique ability to use their art to deliver powerful messages about culture, society and the world. Though artists and dentists undergo different training and follow very different career paths, at the end of the day I’d argue that we still share a common goal: whether it’s fixing smiles or fixing society, we’re all in this to change people’s lives for the better.
~Sharlene Cam, Los Angeles ’18