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  1. Santiago Ramón y Cajal, glial cells of the cerebral cortex of a child, 1904, ink and graphite on paper. Courtesy of Instituto Cajal (CSIC).

  2. Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Untitled (self portrait), c. 1885

The Beautiful Brain

The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal

September 5-December 3, 2017

Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 9 am-5 pm; Saturday-Sunday, noon-5pm; closed Mondays and Holidays

OPENING RECEPTION: Thursday, September 7, 6-9 pm

EXHIBIT TOURS: Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 and 3:30 pm beginning September 16

LECTURE with Catherine Malabou at the Liu Institute: Thursday, November 23 at 6 pm

SYMPOSIUM: 20 Years of Brain Health: An Anniversary Symposium with keynote speakers Catherine Malabou and Karl Deisseroth, Saturday, November 25 at 1 pm

POETRY READING with Elee Kraljii Gardiner and Ali Blythe, TRAUMA HEAD Reading the Medical File: Thursday, November 30 at noon

CONCERT with UBC Contemporary Players: Friday, December 1 at 2 pm

CONCERT with Corey Hamm’s Piano Class: Friday, December 1 at 7 pm

SYMPOSIUM with Drs. Alfonso Araque, Claudia Krebs and Larry Swanson at the UBC Alumni Centre: Thursday, September 7, 3-5 pm

SEMINAR & READING GROUP: Plasticity at 221A: Wednesdays, October 4, 18, November 1, 15 and 21 at 7 pm

CONVERSATION with Anthony Phillips and Timothy Taylor: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 7 pm

DOWNLOAD the Teacher’s Study Guide

PLAYLIST: Images from “The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal” Explained by UBC Neuroscience Grad Students
(24 videos ~1 minute each.)

The Beautiful Brain is the first North American museum exhibition to present the extraordinary drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), a Spanish pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist renowned for his discovery of neuron cells and their structure, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1906. Known as the father of modern neuroscience, Cajal was also an exceptional artist and studied as a teenager at the Academy of Arts in Huesca, Spain. He combined scientific and artistic skills to produce arresting drawings with extraordinary scientific and aesthetic qualities. A century after their completion, his drawings are still used in contemporary medical publications to illustrate important neuroscience principles, and continue to fascinate artists and visual art audiences. Eighty of Cajal’s drawings are accompanied by a selection of contemporary neuroscience visualizations by international scientists.

After countless hours at the microscope, Cajal was able to perceive that the brain was made up of individual nerve cells or neurons rather than a tangled single web, which was only decisively proven by electron microscopy in the 1950s and is the basis of neuroscience today. His speculative drawings stemmed from an understanding of aesthetics in their compressed detail and lucid composition, as he laboured to clearly represent matter and processes that could not be seen.

Also presented at the Belkin, Thought Forms is an exhibition of works that includes abstract paintings and drawings by Lawren Harris alongside illustrations from Charles Leadbeater’s The Chakras (1927) and Annie Besant’s Thought Forms (1901). These early twentieth century works sought to visualize states of consciousness as well as explore themes of spirituality and mysticism. In addition, a selection of Robert Wilson’s contemporary works from his Mind/Brain series will be exhibited.

The exhibition considers the emerging field of art and neuroscience and engages with interdisciplinary research of scholars from the sciences and humanities alike. A catalogue published by Abrams accompanies the exhibition, containing reproductions of the exhibition drawings, commentary on each of the works and essays on Cajal’s life and scientific contributions, artistic roots and achievements, as well as contemporary neuroscience imaging techniques.

The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal was developed by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota with the Instituto Cajal. The exhibition at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia is presented with the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health with support from the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, our Belkin Curator’s Forum members and generous donors.

For further information please contact: Jana Tyner at,
tel: (604) 822-1389, or fax: (604) 822-6689