SOMETIMES AN artist, like a surgeon, triggers a surprise reflex by touching the heart of the matter.
When Malika Favre rendered the recent animated cover of the New Yorker’s health issue, she told The Post’s Comic Riffs last month, “I wanted to convey simply the feeling of losing control — the sensation in your body and awareness.” What she ended up touching upon internationally, however, was how women surgeons — as well as other minorities within medicine — feel about being visually represented, as many created their own versions of the image and posted them on social media:
“When I saw ‘Operating Theater’ by Malika Favre on the cover, I was struck not only by the beautiful image, but by the depiction of a female surgeon and her team — a sight that is not commonplace,” says Susan Pitt, an endocrine surgeon at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
That is precisely what had struck Francoise Mouly, the New Yorker’s art director. “The image resonated for me personally because I have been in the operating room with my dad — he was a surgeon,” Mouly says. “Surgery is at the top of a highly hierarchical world — and women surgeons have earned their place the hard way and must be celebrated.”
The cover struck Pitt so powerfully that she “instantly wanted to replicate it,” she tells Comic Riffs, “and show people what women surgeons really look like.” So Pitt got several medical-conference attendees to pose with her in re-creating the shot, which launched a social-media hashtag challenge.
Once Pitt saw that some other surgeons had responded with their own visual iterations of the cover, she realized that the animation could resonate with women surgeons the world over. Thus, the #NYerORCoverChallenge was born, with a hashtag coined by Pitt’s friend Marissa Boeck, a surgical resident at Columbia University.
Pitt cites the influence of professor Caprice Greenberg, her colleague at the University of Wisconsin’s department of surgery.
“She really opened my eyes to the gender bias and gender inequity so prevalent in surgery and many other STEM fields, as well as executive-level positions,” says Pitt, noting Greenberg’s recent Academic Surgical Congress talk, “Sticky Floors and Glass Ceilings.” “I think her talk and the #ILookLikeASurgeon movement that began a couple of years ago really primed the overwhelming response by female surgeons in the U.S., which clearly extends to women surgeons all over the world.”
The challenge spread to surgeons in such nations, as Brazil, Mexico and Turkey.
“This is a case where art can shine a light on a new reality,” Mouly says, “and we couldn’t be more delighted to see the way the cover has become a rallying flag of all those who have made it.”