NAAM exhibit eyes African-American health issues
The Northwest African American Museum's latest exhibit, "Checking Our Pulse — Health and Healers in the African American Community," features five health issues that disproportionately affect the African American community — heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, mother and infant issues, and breast cancer.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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"Checking Our Pulse" films: type "checking our pulse" in YouTube
'Checking Our Pulse — Health and Healers in the African American Community'Wednesdays-Sundays, through June 5, 2011; Northwest African American Museum, 2300 S. Massachusetts St., Seattle; $4-$6 (206-518-6000 or www.naamnw.org).
The Northwest African American Museum's latest exhibit is dear to Devon Love.
The show highlights five health issues that disproportionately affect the African American community — heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, mother and infant issues, and breast cancer.
Love's been touched by every single issue. Her grandmother had heart disease; an uncle suffered heart failure; a step-grandfather died from a massive heart attack; her mother had breast cancer; another grandfather had colorectal cancer; an uncle had AIDS; and a cousin lost twins. Her clan is no stranger to diabetes and heart disease, either.
"I've seen everything in my own family," said Love, a project director for the Center for MultiCultural Health. "That's why education and awareness are the best thing that can be done."
Love, 38, is profiled in the exhibit, along with more than a 100 African Americans in the local medical field.
In contrast to the warm brown tones of the rest of the museum, the exhibit, called "Checking Our Pulse," is expressed in neon colors of blue, purple, yellow, red and green.
The bright colors are "a call to action," said the museum's community affairs director, Sherry Williams.
The exhibit extensively explains five issues through text, each in a different color. It's a heady show that takes time to ingest, though illustrated statistics break up the content — such as how one in three African American women in King County over the age of 40 has not gotten a recent mammogram, or how African American patients are three times as likely to die from diabetes than white patients.
The exhibit was designed by Georgetown studio Belle & Wissell Co., known for its multimedia work, having produced installations for the Wing Luke Museum, the Harley-Davidson Museum and the University of Washington's new business school building, PACCAR Hall.
The NAAM exhibit reflects the studio's use of interactivity. There's a stack of pizza boxes along with a 23-pound weight one can try lifting — the volume of pizza Americans eat in a year. The exhibit also features the fitness video game Wii Fit and a blood pressure machine. A mammogram truck will be parked outside the museum on some days, to give breast-cancer checks. There's also a spot for museumgoers to sign promises about how they plan to take better care of themselves.
The section of the exhibit dealing with each health issue includes a profile of a medical official, with a quote as to how he or she has been affected. The list of officials includes Swedish Medical Center doctors; community leaders such as Bertram Johnson, who works in HIV/AIDS; and University of Washington medical student Rob Jones.
In an interview at NAAM, Swedish Cancer Institute breast surgeon Dr. Patricia Dawson said, "We hope kids come through ... and see themselves reflected in the exhibit ... And we hope they change medicine for the better."
Museum Deputy Director Brian Carter wanted to celebrate these medical officials and highlight the community's health disparities. He worked with Swedish Medical Center, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, on the exhibit.
"We could have done it as a documentary, a lecture or a panel, but we decided an exhibit would be best," said Carter. "This enhances the fulfillment museums have as a cultural institution ... to be a change agent in the community."
Swedish Hospital plans on taking the exhibit on the road, first displaying it in its lobby and then in other museums, where local medical officials can be profiled.
"This exhibit is necessary for African Americans that are horribly disproportionately affected in these areas," said Johnson, director of the CareTeam Program for Multifaith Works.
Johnson and others were on-site that day to be filmed for a series about the exhibit for YouTube.
"The silence and lack of action is killing us," he said.
Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or email@example.com
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