Art of Medicine
Nov 2023

Loneliness and Cultural Hyphenation

Julia Bhuiyan
AMA J Ethics. 2023;25(11):E839-840. doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2023.839.


Forever a Work in Progress is a painting that explores complexities of isolation as one consequence of navigating a culturally hyphenated identity.

Figure. Forever a Work in Progress



Acrylic paint on canvas, 16" x 20".


This acrylic self-portrait considers the artist’s experience of cultural hyphenation as a Bengali-American teenager. Among young adults with hyphenated cultural identity labels, feelings of loneliness can be exacerbated by frustrations of striving to maintain a delicate, convoluted balance among values, beliefs, and expectations stemming from multiple, often conflicting, cultural demands. Discovering and exploring one’s cultural hyphenation identity processes and experiences tends to be messy and lonely.

Emerging cultural identity, suggested in the painting by homogenous blue tones, is not free from assimilation’s indignities, suggested by red tones. New norms of selfhood acceptable in American culture are simultaneously transformative and demand ongoing transformation, signified here by movement of a paintbrush wielded by the hand of the figure in the lower right. Given oscillating native and adopted cultural influences, it is unclear how the blank-faced figure will experience being painted, colored, transformed.


AMA J Ethics. 2023;25(11):E839-840.



Conflict of Interest Disclosure

Author disclosed no conflicts of interest.

The viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.