Sonia Tagari is an artist, designer and MDes candidate in OCAD University's new graduate program in Design for Health. She's sparky and articulate, and in 2016 began her career at OCAD University armed with a Manchee Foundation scholarship and duel degrees from the research-heavy University of Michigan in Art & Design and Neuroscience.
In late 2015, the Manchee Foundation donated more than $500,000 in support of Tagari's program, the university's newest graduate offering.The generous gift marks a growing, cross-sector acknowledgement that designers can affect the quality of life and well-being of entire populations through the designs they create, and it comes as the OCAD U embraces game-changing education and research to dramatically improve design practices related to healthcare environments, medical technologies and public health policy and communication. Significantly, it will endow two yearly scholarships in perpetuity.
“In my undergrad,” explains Tagari, “the two degrees I undertook were kept at a distance. But I saw themes emerge in my art practice that were mirrored in my science degree. Design for Health not only exposes me to different ways of thinking and more practical skills, it also allows me to see if a strong link can be forged — connecting art, design and healthcare. I want to act on that link."
In inviting designed solutions to health challenges, the MDes program explores four primary themes — each of which is investigated in studio and via partnered projects: the health context, which develops domain knowledge specific to health, healthcare delivery, communications and technology; research and application, which applies qualitative, co-designed and evidence-based techniques to health challenges; design and innovation, which creates ethical and sustainable solutions; and proficiency and leadership within interdisciplinary collaborations.
"Design for Health provides me with the opportunity to apply art thinking and practice in a way that transcends the personal," says Tagari. "That has benefits beyond myself. It also helps me see differently by expanding the singular approach of the clinician.” The relative simplicity of what she wants — “to be useful” — belies a fierce list of interests that includes lithography, printmaking, illustration, typography, publication design and the human body. Unsurprisingly, she sees huge opportunities in her field for collaboration, and is particularly interested in addressing patient-communication issues in healthcare. “Designers understand the typographical relationship between reader comprehension and negative space," she says, “whereas a scientist might regard as ‘incomplete’ a research poster that incorporates negative space in order to make information more accessible. This actually happened to me during the presentation of a poster I'd created.”
Tagari is the youngest student in her MDes cohort. While she sometimes finds that daunting, she also believes it will further her learning. It’s a very multi-disciplinary group — one that includes architects, web designers, product designers and healthcare practitioners. And as for Manchee scholarship? “I’m completely honoured,” Tagari says. “It really does help.”
'Am I more than a system of cells? Is my body so different than yours?'
Sonia Tagari’s Corporeal (2016) is a multi-media installation that addresses the relationship between a physical and psychosocial identity. It serves as an archive of limited medical data that investigates the level of access one has to personal information and the limitations in knowledge of something so immediate as one’s body. The installation encourages the viewer to investigate the data stored in the cabinet and desk drawers, allowing the audience to search for files, prints and videos in the same way the artist searched for medical information. All records and diagnostic images are sourced from the artist, creating a biological self-portrait. Together, the images explore the intimate and impersonal, familiar and foreign understanding of human physiology.
Installation components: medical records, diagnostic images, lithographic prints, woodblock prints, CNC cut woodblocks, 3D printed skull + spine, video, lab equipment, found furniture, light boxes.