“Autonomy” at Smith Gallery explores intersection of medicine and identity


Sofiia Zaruchenko

Aubrie Torhorst `23 stands between her pieces “A Body Touched” (left) and “One Needs to be Embraced” (right).

Claire Giannosa, Staff Writer

An exhibit of original work by Aubrie Torhorst `23 is currently on display at the Smith Gallery in the Joe Rosenfield `25 Center (JRC). The show, titled “Autonomy,” is open through March 10. 

The show features five acrylic paintings relating to the theme of autonomy and personal identity in the healthcare system. Each painting is accompanied with a written description that outlines the inspiration Torhorst took from scientific journals dealing with sexual health, aging and the importance of human connection, especially in relation to one’s ability to take control of their own healthcare. 

The initial idea for the show stemmed from Torhorst’s experience last summer shadowing an orthopedic hand surgeon. “I was really confronted with just how important our hands were,” Torhorst said. She was inspired by “this idea of hands and identity — not so much hands in terms of able-ness, like the ability to actually use your hands, but hands as a metaphor to connect with others and connect with the world.” 

She started working on the pieces for this show during the fall semester, originally planning to paint four works to represent four life stages — childhood, young adulthood, mid-adulthood and older adulthood. She said the fifth piece, “See Me,” came later and was inspired by the idea of the medical gaze, or how medical professionals view their patients as bodies rather than individuals.

Her pieces feature distinctive heads and hands that interact and connect in different ways. Torhorst said that in “A Body Touched” she “came up with a composition of hands surrounding this head, that were not only self-curious, … [but] an intimate touch of yourself.” 

That painting in particular was inspired by scientific journals regarding sexual health and harm. “So there’s that tension of ‘is that good? Is that bad?’ It’s supposed to be teetering on that line,” Torhorst said. “There are a lot of positives that can come out of sexual health and sexual respect … I didn’t want the artwork to only be about harm.” 

The first piece Torhorst worked on, “Learning How to Be One,” was inspired by her experience as an AmeriCorps member educating kids about emotional awareness and her personal experiences with healthcare. “I just remember feeling so intruded on as a kid, but not because anyone did anything bad, just because when you’re little and have all these strangers concerned about your body and health, they kind of have to do things that feel intrusive,” Torhorst said. “I feel more able to be in control of my own health, more autonomous with myself, for them having supported me.” 

The painting features a head held up by many hands, with a spotlight on a hand prying open the person’s eye. “The hand is like, ‘I’m opening you up to the world, here’s how to do things, here’s how to be one. Be yourself, you know, go on to act autonomously,’” Torhorst said. 

She said the idea of autonomy intertwines the individual with the community. “The word autonomous implies individualism … you can only be autonomous if you’re in an environment and surrounded by an environment that supports you. Therefore, autonomy relies on interconnectedness, actually.”  

The idea of interconnectedness is visible in the intersection of hands holding up and supporting the heads in her pieces. 

 Torhorst will host a closing ceremony for the show at 4 p.m. on March 10. Torhorst said she hopes people will see her art and ask questions. “I thought it would be fun to have a formal gathering about my artwork,” she said. 

Currently, Torhorst is applying for medical school and hopes to pursue a career in the medical field — however, she is not in a rush. “Hopefully, it works out, but if it doesn’t work out this cycle, I’m gonna try again. It’s not the end of the road for me, it’s what I want to do.” 

“I’ve really loved just working with the community,” Torhorst said, reflecting on her past healthcare-related experiences. “I just really love the environment of being that leader in their health.” In relation to her role, Torhorst said she seeks to be “hopefully like a friend and a trusted person” to her patients. 

As a biology and studio art double-major, the connections between the two disciplines are clear to Torhorst. “Because health is such a vulnerable process, just like artwork. Art-making is so vulnerable,” she said. 

“Autonomy” is open in the Smith Gallery in the JRC through March 10.