Leaving the frantic, traffic-clogged hustle of downtown Toronto, you enter the Faculty of Dentistry lobby on Edward Street only to be confronted by what could be U of T’s version of Guernica, Picasso’s frantic and masterful depiction of suffering during the Spanish Civil War. But whereas Guernica reveals man’s inhumanity to man, this whirlwind of colour and motion depicts what life can do to us.
The 11- by 19-foot mural is a memorial to Alan Black (DDS 1962), who survived the horrors of the Holocaust, hiding with his family from the Nazis in his native Belarus (then known as the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic), only to die of Hodgkin’s disease at age 38. The painting, unveiled in 1978 by Black’s adoring patients, friends and former classmates, represents almost two years of painstaking work by Chilean muralist Carmen Cereceda. In her depiction of sickness and healing through the ages, Mother Earth is surrounded by a shaman, medicine man and modern-day doctor and dentist. Humanity sits on her shoulder, attached by an umbilical cord that, for better or for worse, can never be severed. Amid these healers, our Earth goddess looks fearful and in pain. And for good reason: although a desert cactus, one of nature’s success stories, blooms nearby, we also see a dinosaur – proof that not all of Earth’s creations can have happy endings.