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Photo of Zahra Zlayer and her artwork

The Coincidence of Science and Art: Expressions from New York Pathologist and Artist Zahra Jlayer

Scientists and artists uniquely strive to conceptualize the impalpable world both around and within us. To understand the interplay of data and emotions that compose our entire existence, one would have to respect, equally, the natural and social sciences. Nurtured by the complexities of nature, is a delicate arrangement of mind, body and soul and for these gifted professionals, the process of discovery in these realms is an infinite challenge. Profound is their passion and is, as history proves, essential to the advancement of civilization. Science and art do not have to be mutually exclusive. Quite arguably, they are equivalent and share the same soul. The creative and scientific processes are impossible in the absence of methodology, technique and intensity. In these disciplines victory, at times incidental, is born from inquiry and failure. The wins- they are a moving target as we fancy a perpetual raising of the bar of our own personal bests.

Regrettably, society tells us that we have to choose one lane. You either master the arts or you master the sciences. To further constrain ourselves, society prefers that you respectfully limit your interest in disciplines in which you have not mastered theoretically. But who should question the notion that highly intelligent humans have the ability to engage, to full capacity, both sides of their cerebral hemispheres? For those of us drawn to both worlds, there are notable polymaths and Renaissance men and women who inspire us. Some of them are even more relatable like New York artist, Zahra Jlayer.  She has redefined the balance between “discrete” passions and is living a life fulfilled. 

I first met Zahra at ChaShaMa in 2018 where I was drawn to what, endearingly, looked like life under a microscope.

ChaShaMa, NYC 2018

While browsing through the repurposed office high-rise with views of a lively, 9pm Times Square backdrop, I admired the work of unsung heroes disrupting art in designated office corners. It was her “pour” technique that enabled Zahra to achieve this beautiful abstract art and, after introduction to her creative process, I learned that she is also a physician pathologist and former medical examiner. I instantly thought “ah, a fellow cerebrally ambidextrous soul, tell me more…”.

ChaShaMa is homage to the various gallivants of solitude I frequent in juxtaposition to my professional tenures in science, clinical and technical disciplines – moreover, my CV journals a trail of computing 1’s and 0’s, cellular biology and architectural design. To set the tone, art is my first love and I will always have an eye for esthetics. According to Myers- Briggs it all makes sense… as much as my introvert/extrovert classification makes sense. And for sanity’s sake, it’s refreshing to finally accept that science and art represent mutual inclusivity.

Dr. Zahra Jlayer would agree. Zahra’s love for painting was inspired by her father, a self-taught artist and poet. “She hardly found peaceful time to spend on painting while she was in medical school, nevertheless her immense desire for painting remained alive”. I met Zahra again at her Nature Hacks exhibition in

Nature Hacks “Tree Rings”, 2020

Mount Kisco, NY last November where she shared with me, the background and emotions behind her different works of art. We also discussed techniques like how she allows layers of paint days to dry between applications. For fellow scientists, you will witness the intersection of art and science in the cellular imagery her paint pouring method produces while the union of colors, appearing organically in nature, delivers visions of all stages of life in science and nature.

In a larger narrative, the scientific community recognizes the coincidence of science and art. Zahra’s “neurosphere” was exhibited at Infinite Potentials, Sci Art Center in Cambridge and New York Hall of Science in collaboration with the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.

Neurosphere “Order and Chaos”, 2018

The international traveling exhibition focused on stem cell science and its potentials and featured 39 artists from around the world.

What is Dr. Jlayer working on now? Zahra is quite active at home during COVID-19 creating a Quarantine series as part of her “30 Days Painting Challenge”. As I follow along on social media, this collection beautifully reflects, for better or worse, the consciousness we are experiencing at present. To an extent, the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting civilization akin to the epidemic that riddled Europe in the Middle Ages. From that, the Renaissance emerged and perhaps Zahra’s uplifting, creative expression is a lens into civilization’s progression towards an evolutionary new normal. I am confident that both science and art will continue to do their job during these challenging times and I look forward to a beautiful emergence of inspiring work from our scientists and artists.

Follow Zahra @zahra_jlayer