Sharon Madanes is both an artist and a doctor. A graduate of Hunter College’s MFA program and Columbia University medical school, she is currently a psychiatry resident at NYU. Madanes is also a contributor to Public Art Fund’s Art on the Grid exhibition, a group show of emerging artists whose work is displayed on JCDecaux bus shelters and LinkNYC kiosks citywide, produced in response to the converging crises of the pandemic and systemic racism in our country. Madanes took time to answer a few questions about how her practice has changed over the past few months and how she has maintained hope.
Can you describe how you created work during the shutdown? Did anything change for you?
Sharon Madanes: The pandemic has disrupted my normal studio practice in many ways. For safety, I stopped traveling to my shared Chinatown studio, and after losing childcare, I ended up moving in with my parents-in-law. The nature of my day job as a doctor changed drastically as well; there were many months where I focused all of my energy on researching the psychological impacts of the pandemic on health care workers and medical residents in particular, and now all of my clinical experiences are virtual. I am lucky that my in-laws are very supportive and have allowed me to convert unused garage space into a makeshift studio. I love to make large paintings, but since relocating, I’ve been valuing a nimble studio practice. I’ve been making small paintings on panels to contemplate my experiences and to digest stories from coworkers on the frontlines.
How has New York City informed your work? Has that changed in recent months?
SM: My work has always been informed by my visual environment, experiences in different institutional settings and conversations with other artists. New York is the nexus of my artist community, and the density of that community has shifted dramatically during Covid-19. I don’t think the conversation around culture is any less rich—although it is less frequent for me—but its appearance has changed: physical distance between people is palpable, the paraphernalia of separation is ubiquitous, and instead of familiar density, there is conspicuous sparsity of people.
As a contributor to Art on the Grid, how do you hope your work will be perceived? What thoughts or emotions would you like to evoke in the viewer?
SM: At the start of the pandemic, I was consumed by experiences working in the hospital. After I transitioned to working remotely, I immediately began hearing from patients and colleagues about the challenges of receiving and providing comfort through masks and through screens. These interactions were missing the comfort provided by an uncovered understanding face and human touch. In reflecting on these experiences, I kept returning to the therapeutic nature of facial expression and the heat that emanates from a hand, and how in the routine of clinical life, these personal connections are routinely part of an exam. I’m hoping the viewer feels some of this in my painting, the desire for closeness and comfort and generosity, despite all of the barriers necessitated for safety.
What has given you hope and sustained you over the last few months?
SM: I’m sustained by the love I feel for my family and friends and by the meaning I find in my work, both in my studio and as a health care provider. I’m inspired by all the work and passion I see around me, in people fighting through setbacks and tragedies to make the world more equitable and safer. I find hope in the interactions I have on a regular basis, as altered or limited as they are.
What positive qualities do you hope will come out of the pandemic—for yourself personally or for the City?
SM: This pandemic has highlighted that there is an urgent need for health care reform and social change to counter systemic racism and prejudice. This has always been true, but the pandemic has highlighted the urgency of making these changes. In stripping down life to its essential parts, the pandemic has also reinforced what is most important to me on a day-to-day level, and that is meaningful work and being present for my family.
For more information about the artist, visit sharonmadanes.com.