Breast Cancer Art Project

"Suspended Self: The Liminal Space of Breast Cancer" 

Artist Statement

I have always known cancer.  My mother, Molly, had metastatic breast cancer for eight years before her passing in 2005.  I have a high risk and genetic predisposition that significantly raises my chances of developing breast cancer.  To date, I have had four mastectomy surgeries, ten MRI’s, ten 3d mammograms, and fifteen years of suspecting a gene.  I have a lifetime of tests, procedures, waiting, and surgeries to come.  


I do know that I am not alone.  1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.  On average, that is one woman every 2 minutes.  Awareness and advocacy has helped, but these numbers are staggering.  What we don’t see in these numbers are the stories involved.  The care, the feelings, the day to day.  We do not see how it changes people’s lives.  


Observing and listening to people over these years, I’ve heard the same thing echoed over and over:  "Am I alone?" "I just need someone to say they get this..." It seems that in a culture that prefers stories to be inspirational and sanitized, we neglect to display the stories of rising and falling in between.  As an artist, I wanted to respond to this need.  


This yearlong study will highlight the experiences of breast cancer patients, survivors, and those with a high risk or genetic predisposition for breast cancer. I will be conducting interviews with these people, hosting art workshops and support groups with them, building a series of art pieces that reflect these experiences, and hosting an art exhibition that is the culmination of the year.  


Often described as a journey, cancer and living with the possibility of cancer changes your perspective on life. It's a deeply personal and vulnerable experience, and it can be isolating in its depths. The mission of this project is to provide a visual articulation to the breast cancer experience, to connect and support those affected by breast cancer, and provide further awareness, advocacy, and understanding to this process. 

 

Exhibition Statement

“Suspended Self: the Liminal Space of Breast Cancer” honors the in-between, the liminal space that is created in a life affected by breast cancer.  A body of work to invoke emotion, connection, and serve as advocacy work, this exhibition is a visual articulation of the breast cancer experience.  Hundreds of their voices inform the work as “previvors,” or people who have a high family risk or gene that increases their risk of breast cancer, current cancer patients, and breast cancer survivors are both the voices and guidepost for this project.  

Through collected stories, workshops, and interviews, and the “artifacts” of the breast cancer experience - MRI scans, hospital tags, various types of waiting gowns, I am developing 2d and interactive art pieces. The audience participation is crucial to the work itself, as the mission of the project is to facilitate a space for honest, open dialogue and hold space for this experience.  Participants of the exhibition can pick up and try on pieces, they can sit down at a desk and put on headphones to listen to and watch a short film, walk in and around other work, or use a rewired vintage telephone to hear messages from real patients.  All of this work is placed in and around a living room center that is curated for comfort, support, and connection.  

 

Community programming events accompany the exhibition - a panel discussion with leading experts on breast cancer and previvor work,  art workshops to process the feelings observed, and a support group to process the feelings experienced within the exhibition space.  
 

© 2013-2020 by Mallory Shotwell  

Interdisciplinary artist, art teacher, and curator    Grand Rapids, Michigan

  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Facebook