Charles Alston's Magic in Medicine is situated opposite his Modern Medicine, offering contrast and dialogue between traditional and modern healing practices. The diptych imagines the history of healing and medicine in Africa and the United States. The sepia-toned Magic in Medicine incorporates a Fang reliquary sculpture, a type of ritual art piece from Gabon that was widely collected by Alston's contemporaries. The Fang sculpture, perhaps representing Africa, is juxtaposed in Modern Medicine to symbols of the West, such as the microscope, fathers of ancient Western medicine, and modern medical practitioners, nurses, and doctors.
Magic in Medicine also references the healing traditions of the South. It depicts a large female subject, almost as large as the reliquary statue, who appears to be a spiritualist or healer who dispenses herbal medicines and conducts traditional practices. Again, this offers a contrast to the depiction in Modern Medicine of surgeons and nurses, among them African Americans, working in a modern hospital.
Charles Alston, Magic in Medicine, oil on canvas, 1940.