Art in Medicine, Introducing the Ko Iki Mini Museum

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There's a new addition to the great lawn on the John A. Burns School of Medicine campus. Inspired by the free petite library movement that made reading accessible to millions, there's a similar structure intended to provide inspiration and accessibility to art for all who pass by. 

The Ko Iki Mini Museum ( Ko, for her surname and "iki" for "small" in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi) was installed on the JABSOM campus earlier this month by JABSOM alumna Dr. Kathryn Ko. 

"I think art should be free and accessible to all. Sometimes people get intimidated going into a museum, so my idea was to bring the museum to them," Ko said. 

Dr. Ko is an accomplished neurosurgeon and artist. After graduating from JABSOM, she completed her residency at Mount Sinai in New York City and leaned on her passion for painting when her practice was established.

"Art was fundamentally important to making my neurosurgery career. Art enriched it, and I was able to go from the Operating Room to the art studio, from the scalpel to the brush. I think it had such a profound effect on my medical career," Ko said.

Ko is now the Chief of Metro Neurosurgery in New York City, and art's importance in her life has never waned. 

"Art continues the story from the operating theater into the studio," Ko said. "As a neurosurgeon, there are many things you have to process that are difficult to discuss in the hospital or the operating room. It's in your heart. So through my art, which is mostly based in neurosurgery, I've been able to express my concern, care, and feelings in a way that I'm not able to talk about in the hospital setting." 

After visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art Long Island, Ko had the idea to share art with her alma mater.

"I just fell in love with it," she said. "The minute I saw it, I called the fabricator and said, 'I want to bring a mini museum to Hawaiʻi."

The 5-foot by 4-foot mini museum took eight months to build. It traveled 5,000 miles in a crate across a continent and the Pacific Ocean, but when the 200-pound Ko Iki landed in the JABSOM mail room in February, it was already a thing of beauty.

With prismatic glass on the sides that illuminate the 11 current pieces, the first Ko Iki show is comprised of acrylic or oil miniatures of Dr. Ko's paintings, all small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. One piece highlighting a surgeon's precision with staples has caught the eye of many who passed by.  

"When you hold a scalpel, it's sacred," Ko explains. "A surgeon holding a scalpel above a patient is profound because that first cut is everything. You have to keep in mind that every step you make as a surgeon, you cannot take your eye off it. As a neurosurgeon, the margin for deviation is less than a millimeter. The closing of the wound with the staples signifies the end of a successful operation. The staples are going in, and that symbolizes how the patient will be moving on, back to their life."

The vision for Ko Iki is like that of a typical gallery. Pieces will rotate every six weeks, and themes will alternate between art and science. The first call for art will be "what inspires you in medicine".

"I hope everyone in the medical environment, researchers, clinicians, professors, groundskeepers, will share what inspires them about medicine. Miniature canvases are provided in the Ko Iki Kiosk in the Health Sciences Library. Artists can create anything they want in any medium. Take a pencil, take stencils, take dirt. Just put it on a blank canvas. You will feel it. You could be transformed in a small way."

When shows end, the art displayed will go up for adoption.  

"We want people to take art to their home or office and hopefully get some inspiration," Ko said. "If people choose to, they might want to leave a dollar donation; we can buy more canvases."

For the last 35 years, Ko has delivered neurosurgical care in New York City. As a multimedia artist, she continues expressing herself in her Manhattan studio. She is the Artist in Residence at the Living Museum in the borough of Queens, where she also has a studio. Through Ko Iki, she is grateful to share her passions with students, faculty, and the general public back home. 

"I feel that holding art close, you retain kindness," she said. "I wanted to give this as my thank you gift to the school in the hopes that the students get the same enjoyment from art and they understand that this JABSOM environment is very special. You don't get the aloha anywhere else." Ko is deeply grateful to the Interim Dean and the administrators at JABSOM for supporting her vision.  

Interim Dean Lee Buenconsejo-Lum appreciates Dr. Ko's pioneering efforts to infuse art into our medical school. 

"We're so very thankful to JABSOM alumna Dr. Kathryn Ko for this opportunity," Buenconsejo-Lum said. "Humanism in medicine is really important, and art is absolutely a component of that. It allows us to reflect on the different experiences that our medical students or physicians go through. That pause is significant to maintaining humanity in medicine. We're just really happy to have this as an augmentation to some of our curricular efforts."

Ko Iki Mini Museum Ceremony