Making art with neuroscience

Shima Rastegarnia has a B.Sc. in computer science. She was always interested in art and uses different mediums in her paintings. Shima is also interested in graphic design, 3D modeling, and in making video games.

Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Shima Rastegarnia: I have a B.Sc. in computer science. I was always interested in art, and I try to use different mediums in my paintings. I started oil painting when I was 10 and since then painting became one of my main interest. I am also a fan of graphic design, 3D modeling, and making video games. Currently, I am working at Centre de Recherche de l’Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal (CRIUGM) where I was inspired to try a new experiment for making art with the theme of neuroscience.

These days, I am trying to gain a better understanding of neuroscientific principles, along with expertise in neuroinformatics and science communication.

RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?

SR: I enjoy Persian art particularly love miniature: the style which has bright and pure coloring with a lot of details. Some of my paintings are greatly influenced by Persian miniatures.

RB: What is the underlying focus and vocabulary of your work?

SR: Science can be inspiring and beautiful. Science through art can also transfer feeling and it can remove the border between ordinary people and science.

RB: Can you say something about your works Brain Bouquet and The fADe?

SR: In The fADe I tried to embody the Alzheimer’s disease.  The butterfly in this artwork alludes to the memory loss, its wings displaying the same colors like that of a brain MRI image. By showing the body with a texture of melting metal, I was trying to show the difficulty of dealing with the Alzheimer’s disease which wears down even strong people. Under that metallic shell, you can see the MRI image of the body which is visible in different parts. Shown in the background are several of the at-risk genes for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The gene information for this artwork was taken from the manuscript entitled “Parsing the Heterogeneity of Alzheimer’s Disease Using Multiomics Biomarkers: A Focused Review and Roadmap” by Amanpreet Badhwar and colleagues.

Shima Rastegarnia: The fADe

Brain Bouquet represents each lobe of the brain as a flower. The brain, like a garden of flowers, requires upkeep to flourish. The bird here is a symbol of a dream which can fly everywhere and the border represents Subarachnoid space. For painting this piece I was inspired by traditional Persian miniature painting style.

Shima Rastegarnia: Brain Bouquet

RB: You are trained in computer science. Do you find yourself encountering things you didn’t know about the brain as you create your artwork?

SR: I’ve never thought about painting with the theme of science before starting my work at CRIUGM, but after seeing some artworks related to Neuroscience I found it really interesting to integrate science and art. For sure I’ll create more Sciart pieces in the future which may include animation, painting and digital art.

RB: How have the artworks changed your own conception of the function of memory?

SR: Thinking about making an artwork related to a specific topic of science makes me think deeper about the subject and at the same time, give me pleasure.

It can be another way to reach and transfer knowledge to the audience.

RB: Do you have any specific examples where your artistic explorations have helped to guide your academic thinking?

SR: Honestly, I don’t know what I learn from my art. But this fact that how science through art can connect with the world is fascinating for me.

RB: Collaboration between the arts and sciences has the potential to create new knowledge, ideas and processes beneficial to both fields. Do you agree with this statement?

SR: In my opinion, this collaboration can make a bridge between art and science which can make the world of science more beautiful and give the world of art more depth and meaning.

RB: What future projects are you currently working on?

SR: Currently, I am drawing human, monkey and rat brains in the same sheet with the style of Eslimi design (Eslimi is a part of architectural designs including complex lines, curves and rotational arches, which are also depicted in inscriptions, on ceramic, or even clothes and carpets.)

I am trying to make an Eslimi design of those brain folds (Sulcus).

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All images copyright and courtesy of Shima Rastegarnia

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