My aim in creating The Woman Inside Project is to shine a light on the beautiful woman that lies within each woman afflicted with breast cancer. The idea to create this project came to me when, in my work as an OB/GYN physician, I had to tell a woman who was pregnant that her biopsy was positive for breast cancer. Inspired to help her memorialize that moment in time, before she gave birth, lost her breasts, and everything changed, I offered to cast her body in plaster. The seed of an idea gestated, and five years later, I am giving birth to this exhibition as a way to honor the beauty within each woman, particularly those with breast cancer.
When I invite a woman to participate in this project, I invite her into my home, where I sculpt her torso using medical plaster bandages. After casting a woman’s figure, I hold up the sculpture and say, “So this is what the world sees. Now tell me about the rest of you.” I then listen for as long as it takes her to unveil the breathtaking woman inside. When she is done telling her story, I transcribe her story into a first person narrative of the beauty I see within her (and geez, are these women gorgeous!)
Some of the women I sculpted describe the process as a spiritual healing of sorts, during which I touch their bodies, place bandages over their wounds, then remove the bandages, leaving them feeling whole. For others, the process is traumatic, dredging up painful memories of surgical bandages and scars. Either way, the experiences are authentic, and I feel blessed to have been there, holding hands, holding space.
While traumas such as breast cancer crack us open and force us to grow, we all experience painful wounds that threaten to unravel us. It’s how we respond to our wounds that tests us and gives us the opportunity to blossom. When you experience The Woman Inside Project, my goal is that each of you not only sees the beauty within these women, but that you see the beauty within YOU.
While I chose as models breast cancer survivors because their wounds are so visible, I could have sculpted any group of survivors, and the stories would be equally riveting and awe-inspiring. When people have been to hell and back- and you invite them to tell their truth- what emerges is a slender green stalk that, with tending, blooms into full flower. The women who participated in this project have created a garden for which I can claim no credit. It has been an honor to be their witness.
After five years in the works, tonight is the first time The Woman Inside Project will be exhibited. I am honored and blessed to be showing this body of work with kick ass photographer and Pink Goddess Nancy Bellen, who has overcome breast cancer herself.
Our statement about the show:
She lives through the words “You have cancer.” She lives without knowing what tomorrow will hold. She follows a path towards recovery, and rallies the troops to help her overcome. She is not defined by her illness. She transforms. She surrenders to the Universe. She loves fearlessly. She takes off the mask. She speaks her truth. She rides the open road, giggling at gas stations. She plants a garden and watches it grow. She dances with her arms held high and her head thrown back. Sometimes, she succumbs to the disease, but she lives on still, ever present. She cannot be broken because SHE LIVES.
About their show, Bellen and Rankin say, “This show is not about breast cancer. It’s about living. We aim to shine a light on the fact that we all experience and recover from loss over and over again in our lives. Whether we lose a job, a loved one, a marriage, a dream, or a breast, we live still. Not to diminish what anyone experiences, but we get to choose how we live in the face of loss. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Joy is a choice. This show is about how people live in the face of adversity. It’s about the resiliency of the human condition.”
Our show SHE LIVES opens at Commonweal today
Seeing the beauty within each one of you,
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