Heather Snay

Heather Snay
  • PhD Student

Contact Info



Dr. Jay T. Johnson


B.A. in Global and International Studies, University of Kansas
M.A. in Global Studies, University of California - Santa Barbara


As a health geographer Heather Snay studies the geographical self, exploring ways that the body is conceptualized as a space and how, through this framing, the inner experiences of illness become something to translate in order to share them with the external world, or a practitioner. A goal of her research is to discuss how this framing could provide new insights into improving the communication between patient and practitioner. In particular, she is interested in exploring how the visual world of art can be embraced by biomedicine in order to improve patient practitioner communication and the efficacy of biomedicine itself.

Therefore, her work focuses on deconstructing the belief that biomedicine needs to separate the subjective from the objective in order to be successful in healing its patients. To reveal the permeability of the objective/subjective divide in biomedicine, she focuses on the use of biomedical images inside and outside the place of the clinic. The ways in which biomedical images reveal the internal, otherwise invisible body, are promoted as objective inside the clinic. However, once these images leave the place of the clinic, they become more of a subjective image of an individual’s illness or injury. Heather focuses on the ways in which artists use biomedical images in their artwork to illuminate the inherent subjectivities and lived experiences of being ill. In particular, she is interested in the ways artistic expression could serve to better visualize and share embodied pain experiences.

When these images are in the place of biomedicine, do they still not contain the subjective experiences that becomes so apparent in the place of the museum or art gallery, does this disappear in the place of the clinic? Or do these images still hold these subjective experiences, but biomedicine fails to see it? What harm might this do to the patient? Does it matter to understand the entirety of the patient in the efficacy of their care? Are the boundaries between art and science are truly impermeable? When the topic is the human body can the objective be separated from the subjective?

While her interests are global, her dissertation research considers the role of art and how artistic expressions could serve to broaden the ‘medical gaze’ in Senegalese biomedicine. Through her research she hopes to collaborate with artists whose work centers on the body, illness and healing.

Selected Presentations

(2021) Invited Wolof skit performance “Waajal tukki Senegal waaye Jangoro Coronavirus! Massa waay!” Celebrating 50 Years of Africana Studies: Reckoning the Past, Present, and Diasporic Futures, African and African American Studies Department, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.

(2021) “The Invisibility of Chronic Female Pain” Health Humanities in Times of Crisis, SMART museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

(2021) “Expanding the ‘Medical Gaze’ through Art,” The 10th Annual Graduate Research Workshop Kansas African Studies Center, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.

(2019) “Medical Bodily Unhoming,” The 9th Annual Western Michigan University Medical Humanities Conference, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan. 

(2019) “How Medical Discourse can mobilize clinical diagnostics into a Political Condition: A Multimedia Archive of ‘Leprosy,’” Graduate Day Department of Global Studies, University of California – Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California.

(2018) “Medical Discourse as Dehumanization: Evidenced by "the leper" as a Global Trope,” Graduate Day Department of Global Studies, University of California – Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California.

Awards & Honors

(2021) Andrew W. Mellon DEI Curriculum Fellowship, University of Kansas Lied Center

(2020/21) Academic Year FLAS Fellowship, Wolof, KU

(2020) Summer FLAS Fellowship, Wolof, KU

(2019/20) Academic Year FLAS Fellowship, Wolof, KU

(2017) Orfalea Fellowship, UCSB