Bodyscapes: Drawing What Ails Us: 4 year Retrospective Art Album at JanRae Gallery in WCRC until Nov 15th
Most times, the installation of an exhibit is just a routine part of my job. This year, installing the whole collection of WCRC/Bodyscapes artwork showed me first hand the intense transformative power when that much art hangs on the walls inside an institution. It changed the space into a daily community engagement event place.
The new WCRC building is stunning, beautiful and triple the size of the old. The 49 pastels and 53 poems were hung on 10 separate corridor walls. Installation took three full days. On each day, I hung one year’s artwork, 2015, 2016 and 2017/2018 respectively. By the end of the first day, WCRC volunteers were seen gathering, reading poems and starting a discussion. On days 2 and 3, a few separate WCRC employees and clients brought me over to a Bodyscapes pastel which they said had called them, demanding them to engage and read the accompanying poem. During the one-hour employee lunch break, I saw a few people standing in front of various drawings, lunches in hand, reading the poems aloud to themselves.
On day three, WCRC’s new Executive Director, Amy Alanes, pulled me aside. “For the last three days, I have been dying to come to work to see the new artwork. Each corridor I walk down, I have to stop and read and see and feel the journey of each of these women. I can FEEL them through their drawings.”
This year, I could not acquire many original Bodyscapes drawings. I printed and hung high quality color reproductions. The collection of pastels–printed out all the same size–none larger and non smaller than others as are the originals– mounted in rows across 10 walls—as lines and lines of women standing beside each other in solidarity–was captivating.
Few people attended the opening night event. There were a handful of WCRC staff, 1 Bodyscapes artist (Carolyn Mann-Grove), 2 of her friends, 2 of my friends and a couple of other people connected with WCRC. When an opening is well attended, my duties vary between organizing artists, offering thank you’s, and attending to guests. This night, I needed to fill time. Because we were such a small group with so much art to see, I decided to walk en masse through the exhibition. Acting as the sole docent, I started to talk about the colors, the types of marks made on the paper, the images created and materials used. Minutes into the talk, I realized what I really was doing was saying goodbye to WCRC and all the artists whom I had the honor to assist in art-making.
One artist nervous to make art or age in place with cancer. Another artist angry as hell at cancer.
Chris Cahill arrived at the 2017 workshop wearing a wide open necked tee shirt. The area over her removed right breast was still red and raw from radiation. Initially, she drew a small line to indicate her scar. I challenged her to use her art to speak strongly aloud. In her final drawing, deep purple/red blotches indicate radiation damage. Crimson and red zigzag lines represent the scar. “Can I make my woman have no public hair?” She continued. “They tell you that you will loose your hair. But, no one tells you that you will loose your public hair, too. Then, you feel like a child no longer an adult woman.”
I shared the story of how and when Bodyscapes drawings became more richly colored. Artist Carolyn Mann-Grove remembered. “I was so glad you accidentally put out the full spectrum of pastels in the 2017 workshop. The color mixing from primary colors-only in the 2015 workshop was a tough call for the beginners.” She added, “Something to be said tho for restraint in face of too many options.”
At mid-point, I became aware of an uncomfortable truth I needed to share.
“Almost all the artists are not here for me to thank. Some are living cancer free. Some are living with cancer for the first, second or third time. And some are no longer walking on the earth.” I told a story. “One artist, the last time we spoke, was so sick and tired of another recurrence. ‘It is likely, I will not see you again, Diane. But this time, I told the doctors they are NOT cutting me up anymore. I have choice now because through Bodyscapes I found my voice and I can talk back.’”
Dr. Ricardo Alvarez, Medical Director of The Mission Neighborhood Health Clinic in San Francisco, serving the Latinx community, read aloud Dakota’s poem.
“Fabulous vibe at the event tonight! Thank you for taking the time to be so intentional about sharing the experiences of the students and their creative processes”–Cassandra Falby, WCRC Program Director