Healing Through Art

Article By: M.T. Decker

One of the most devastating sentences a woman or man can hear is “You have cancer.” It’s the start of a shocking roller coaster ride that can leave anyone reeling.

Your life can become wrapped around that diagnosis. Treatment options, surgery, chemo, radiation; facing the options can seem worse than the diagnosis. Then there is the treatment itself. It’s a battle that is lived, and your life becomes all about the struggle. In the case of breast cancer, a mastectomy is often necessary, adding physical alterations along with the chemical ones.

As one breast cancer survivor said, “The first thing people do when they discover that you’re a breast cancer survivor is they look at your chest. I mean, they just do! Like, “Oh, I see you still have two!” or “Oh gee, you have part of one,” or whatever. It can’t be helped; that’s just what you do, you look.”

The Bodice Project has its roots in breast cancer awareness, but it has become something so much more.

Working with Identity Crisis, a nonprofit organization that benefits Breast Cancer Awareness – Cumberland Valley (BCA-CV)— the original idea was to put a half silhouette or mannequin in each shop window in Shepherdstown, WV, each representing a breast cancer survivor.

Cynthia Fraula-Hahn wanted to do something meaningful and artistic for her best friend from childhood who’d just diagnosed with breast cancer. Since she was a painter, she decided she would use plaster embedded gauze to wrap breast cancer survivors’ torsos. Then each one was painted to represent the essence of these women and men who bravely volunteered for this project. The concept was to show the reality and diversity of what breast cancer looks like, in a manner that sensitively honors each survivor through the visual arts.

During the process, her friend said something that to this day sense shivers up Cynthia’s spine. She told Cynthia that going through the process of being wrapped, she no longer felt isolated and alone. It gave her a sense of community.

As she began the project, she enlisted other artists in the Shepherdstown area to participate, all of whom said yes. By the end of the awareness campaign, they had amassed a significant amount of artwork displayed in storefront windows in Shepherdstown.

Since the results were displayed separately, Cynthia was curious to see how they would look all together. Her curiosity was answered when they were invited to exhibit all the work at the Hagerstown Community College’s art gallery.

And the Bodice Project was born.

“When you wrap someone, there is this connection between the artist and the survivor,” Cynthia, now President of the Bodice Project explains.

Their purpose is best summed up by this quote from their web page:

“The goal of The Bodice Project is to aid in the emotional healing of those women and men facing the challenges of breast cancer and to open the eyes and hearts of others.”

From its simple beginnings, the Bodice Project has created a powerful exhibition with the artwork surrounded by anonymous quotes from breast cancer survivor models.

The Bodice Project is now a traveling exhibition, trying to spread not only awareness but that sense of community Cynthia’s friend experienced.

As Cynthia put it, “Our goal is to take the concept and share it with the people in other communities. We want to inspire other artists and breast cancer survivors to participate in this rewarding experience and create their own Bodice Project.”

There are almost as many diverse styles as there are artists, each working in their preferred medium. They are made of wood, steel, porcelain, and clay, as well as the plaster gauze wrap. These sculptures speak to and about, the women and men who have survived their personal battle with breast cancer.

Cynthia pointed out that, “There are many forms of breast cancer and many treatments. These include lumpectomies, mastectomies, double mastectomies, preemptive mastectomies for those carrying the BRACCA gene and reconstructive surgeries.”

As one of the survivors pointed out, “I love this project because it’s different. It shows what’s really happening – I mean, what I think it shows is that even though you go through this… process – there’s tomorrow – and that’s what I care about. Tomorrow, always. I have to.”

That is another big part of the exhibition. It isn’t just the art, it is the interaction, the bond, of the survivor and the artist and the words of the survivors this project has touched.

It is the soul of the project. And then there are the reactions to the exhibition, comments left by the guests because it moved them as well.

Dr. C. Peter Bontempo of Highlands, NJ put it best, “Every doctor should see this exhibit. For a surgeon, this is a bridge between the private product of their work and the now public, emotional statement of the person – as art. It’s a powerful connection with those who have invested in this process in an emotional way, and brings the doctor back into their lives as real people.”

In October 2016, The Bodice Project exhibit caught the attention of Dr. Mary J. C. Hendrix, President of Shepherd University, a leading research scientist in the field of cancer. Her immediate reaction was to contact the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) to bring the exhibition to their annual conference.

She said, “The Bodice Project is an extraordinary example of the confluence of beauty, compassion, and reality, seen through the eyes of passionate artists who celebrate breast cancer survivors.”

This resulted in an invitation to exhibit in Chicago at McCormick Place from April 14th through the 18th.

Cynthia stated, “This exhibition will allow us to reach a national audience of twenty thousand cancer researchers as well as other health professionals and lay public and let them experience the transformative nature of The Bodice Project sculptures. “Adding that “participation in the AACR conference will give us the opportunity to bring our mission to other communities.”

“This is not just about having an exhibit,” Cynthia explains. “It’s about sharing this concept with hospitals, cancer centers, and communities. It’s about the interaction between the artists and the patients, creating an impact of what breast cancer looks like through beauty, and bringing the conversation to the public in a unique form.”

The Bodice Project will be on display at McCormick Place, Chicago in the Grand Ball Room Lobby and it will be staffed by the board of directors and volunteers, all of whom are paying their own way, to help in this venture. Hours will run from 07:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

While the invitation itself is an honor and will afford the Bodice Project a national exhibition, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

Containers need to be built to protect the artwork, there are storage requirements, lit pedestals, and new signage that are needed to present the project as a professional exhibition. Then there are transportation costs, insurance… the list goes on. All of which takes money.

It is an incredible opportunity to do something amazing, and you can be a part of it. You can help make this exhibition a reality by donating to The Bodice Project.

To learn more about The Bodice Project, or to make a donation, you can visit their website at thebodiceproject.org you can also visit them on Facebook.

Author: Brian

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