Where Art And The Human Connectome Meet

November 28, 2016


On November 9, as part of the BrainMap lecture series, artist Kathy Toma spoke to a bustling group of scientists and others in the Martinos Center about the mystery of the artist’s brain. In her remarks she probed the role of intuition and other factors in the creation of her work The Primordial Enigma, which includes elements drawn from a Human Connectome Project image by the Center’s Van Wedeen. The painting is now on display at the Center, in Building 149 in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

The Primordial Enigma is a smaller-formatted replica of the monumental Polyptych (4.4m x 4m x 0.50m) of the same name commissioned by the Director of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano for the EXPO 2015 at the Duomo of Milan. In notes accompanying the painting, Toma describes how she came to incorporate the Human Connectome Project image into the work.

“In initial sketches of the emerging Primordial Enigma in April 2013, inspired by The Legend of the True Cross based on Jacques de Voragine’s The Golden Legend, the thematic Tree of Knowledge immediately and strangely took the form of a gigantic brain. How moving to surprisingly discover a posteriori the existence of magnificent images of neuronal brain connections obtained by Human Connectome Project teams that scientifically validated my intuition. One of these images—in its original state—inevitably had to be integrated into my painting, because somehow it was expressing my concept: It was ‘my’ Tree of Knowledge, the brain of the universe.”

Artist Kathy Toma has included elements of a Human Connectome Project image by the MGH Martinos Center’s Van Wedeen into a painting entitled The Primordial Enigma. Shown here are Toma and Center Director Bruce Rosen (left), the part of the painting incorporating the connectome image (center), and Toma buffing a corner of the painting (right).