Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bibiana Padilla Maltos (50)

Throughout my life, my body has changed and I have several scars to prove it, both physical and emotional.

My first surgery happened only days after I was born. I had an umbilical hernia that I can barely see the scar of now, but when I was a kid it sort of had the shape of the Sun "would you like to see my Sun?" I remember asking my family. My feet didn't have enough arch so I wore little boots (which I loved!) but sometimes I didn't pay enough attention when running and fell, hitting my head, so I have a bulky scar in my lower skull that I showed proudly when, years after, I used to shave my head. Once I had to get a tetanus shot because I got hit with a tennis racket and opened my eyelid, I have a tiny scar for that. Years after I realized how lucky I was, if I had been hit lower I could have lost my eye!

I have a scar in my ankle and my knee for ironing my uniform skirt on the floor (don't ask why, I still don't know what I was thinking). Being asthmatic I'm always concerned about the air flow, the weather, the pollution, and very -VERY- familiarized with hospitals, nurses and blood works. I had oxygen therapy (inhaler therapy?), got poked for blood allergy testing more times that I can count, got pinched with cortisone shots more times that I can count, up to the point that nowadays if I need to I can explain someone how to do it for me and feel confident that they will do it right or do it myself (what a weird comfort is that?). I can also tell the people in the lab which of my veins is the good one, and give them alternate options if they screw up.

I never really check my breasts for lumps and such. I remember the one day that I did check, I couldn't find anything until, wait a minute! There it was!!! I ran to the doctor, and said it was the size of a lentil. We didn't know what it was, so he told me to wait and come back a month after. What if it is? What if it isn't? A month past by and my lump had grown to be 3 centimeters. Surgery was scheduled. My surgeon left me a very fine scar that no one can tell it's there.

I have always had very small breasts, but to me they are beautiful because they are mine. I didn't know what would happen and thinking I might have one removed for good I started making casts of it; after that I started filling them up with silicone; after that I thought I needed to put colored marbles as lumps. Results were back, and it was not cancer. I kept the prototypes, which I can't find now. I was lucky, again.

In my everyday job (you know, the one that pays the bills) I had to do audits. While traveling to visit a vendor, my car got out of control and smacked against a semi-truck. It was a very Hollywoodesque moment. Car and semi-truck got off the road. Car in flames. Legs not responding. Crawling out of the car to ask for help (luckily I was conscious). I had knee surgery. Again, I was not only lucky but blessed, how many people alive do you know who've had accidents hitting semi-trucks? I cannot name a single one. I couldn't walk for months and when I did I got the coolest cane. I have 2 centipede scars in my knee and started to tell people what a bad-ass I was that I even have scars to show (as a joke, of course).

It is funny women don't talk about their woman problems. Once you go through one, a lot of them tell you they've been through the same or something similar. Last year I was pregnant. My first pregnancy-doctors-visit I was told it might be more than one baby. I was huge. I came back the next day for an ultra sound. And there it wasn't: only my heart was beating. And there they were: at least 5 fibroids the size of a grapefruit. I had an obvious miscarriage and got a treatment for fibroids explained to me. I don't remember being sad, I remember wanting to be over all that and ready to go. That didn't happen. I got an injection treatment which was an induced menopause, believe me when I say I cannot wait for NOT to go through menopause again. The five big fibroids got reduced to garbanzo size and were removed in two surgeries. Lost the pregnancy. Lost fibroids. Lost bone mass. Lost my mind. And now I am ready to go.

The last three events have left the biggest scars. I can't even show them, but they are there.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Maeshelle West-Davies (49)

In 2004 Maeshelle wrote:

"frigive release" is a series of 6 photographs exploring suicide.

Upon hearing the words, "I’m not ready." I thought I was going to die. My body shut down. But I lived. Then I just wanted to die. Even 6 months later I am wrestling with thoughts of not wanting to live. I’m scared to kill myself. I don’t know if it would improve things. I just know that most of the time I don’t want to be here or anywhere. I just want to be with him. without him I can find no existence. I feel as though a portion of me is missing. It’s the portion that holds joy, laughter, motivation, happiness......the good things I used to soul.

So, at the moment death seems very appetizing. That’s why I chose to make the photos pretty, like a fashion magazine. My emotions keep trying to sell it to me. I could escape this never ceasing pain. I could stop being a drain on my friends and family. My head keeps stopping me from buying it.

The images are designed to draw you in and then to disturb you. Kind of wake you up and bring you back to reality. Suicide is the cause of more deaths in Germany than car accidents. In the States it ranks as one the higher than murder. And yet, it brings such shock. It is a taboo subject. Feeling isolated is one of the biggest triggers of suicide. Because it’s something not to be discussed, you end up feeling even more isolated because you can’t talk to anyone about it. When it is mentioned, the looks say it all. I’m not trying to normalize it or promote it. I’m just trying to show how it can look like the answer. On the contrary, information shows that women in particular, more often than not, fail, leaving them with new traumas to deal with. Not all of these traumas are physical. There’s also the stigma to deal with, some of it external, but a lot of it internal. How could I be having these feelings? As my father said to me, "That’s not an option," thinking that would stop me. Perhaps for him, it isn't an option. I never thought it would be for me. All he did was reinforce years of conditioning of how damaged I am. After much searching, I now know that wanting to die is really just wanting to end the pain. When the coping mechanisms aren’t keeping up with the pain, sometimes suicide results. If someone comes to you and says they want to die, part of them wants to live. This is the part that’s calling out. Sometimes just admitting the feelings can give some strength to the coping department.

Even when I was working on the project, I tried to hide these feelings from myself. I suppressed them, finding loads of other reasons why I had to do these particular images. One of the reasons was I was killing off the part of me that feels. The part of me that loves and wants to be loved. I know I will never find another love like this. So I figured if I could kill this part of me, it wouldn’t hurt so much. I could pick up what was left and carry on with my life....strong in my art. If I am truthful, it is the knowledge of how very special and strong this love is and the hope of his return that keeps me alive.

All of the images were shot in my sublet in Berlin. I have left the place where people know me. I can choose to tell or not to tell people about my depression and they can accept me or not. I am in limbo.........effectively homeless......having lost everything.

-frigive release-


I have never wanted children......until this man. With him it seems an extension of our union and perfectly natural. Also having children seems part of life in Denmark. In my culture i saw it as an end to life, a burden......something to hold you back......something an artist couldn’t afford. This is shot from my balcony. The, whatever that thing is that kids play on, is a constant reminder of what I’ve gained and lost. I have difficulty walking down the street and seeing happy families. My gut wrenches when I see a father and child, knowing he will never play with our children.

The fallen leaves are not only the obvious......oh, how the mighty have fallen, but symbolize the oncoming winter... hibernation my only respite. I am unable to hold a job because of the lack of concentration and the inability to handle even the slightest stress..........symptoms brought on by the depression. My loss of self and my constant thinking about how I could have foreseen and prevented this........guilt, another symptom...........keeps me from interacting with people for any period of time.


Of course the most glamorous is the overdose...just ask Marilyn or Judy. One Sunday I was walking down the street and I came across a pile of glass from a car windshield. It was glistening in the sun, like diamonds. I knew then that was what I should vomit. I later read that when you od on Tylenol, you throw up green, luminous vomit. You don’t die, you just pass out. Someone finds you, rushes you to the hospital. You awake, having changed your mind, only to discover irreparable organ damage. For 5 days you and your family get to sit around and suffer until you die. How’s that for an exit?


I shot this on the fourth month anniversary of the breakup. I had fully intended to pamper myself. I got a bottle of wine, some flowers, and some special food. All of it was left untouched. I felt I had to do this piece. Open communication was the cornerstone of our relationship. On the wall are texts sent during the last year. Such beautiful words. Such comforting, uplifting, empowering words. I love you. Jeg elsker dig. Just three of the many words that meant so much........and then from nowhere...knus..... Danish duality. A warm greeting of rubbing cheeks........I used to love it because it was so intimate and yet so innocent.........and it doesn’t exist in my culture......then a new crush. Words that had been so wonderful now turned to stabbing pain. The object I am using to stab myself is a part of a wind-chime made from metal and ceramic. Each piece has words sent to me in text. It used to hang in the bathroom window. When the wind would blow, his words were renewed. It always brought a feeling of warmth and a smile to my face when I heard the sound. Now it is in the sublet bathroom. Some pieces are on the wall, placed so as not to touch. Others in a glass vases. It lies dismantled..........silenced. the particular piece reads rest of my life.


The same scarf, given as an anniversary gift, that used to keep out the cold, is now choking the life out of me. The items I surrounded myself with to close the distance now only magnify it. I can’t put them in a box, as suggested. I can’t snap out of it. I can’t accept that he is just young and doesn’t know what he is doing. I can’t stop my heart from feeling. Each heartbeat flows with warmth and love. If unbroken, the love would fill the veins and nourish the body, but instead broken, it floods out, poisoning all it touches.

Gift means both marriage and poison in Danish.

-wrist slit-

Again the gift and the poison. In old times and even today in some cultures, it is customary to bleed off an illness. Many times bad blood was replaced with new in an effort to cure. The candles glow in ritual while the clean lines of the bathroom tiles mimic the clinical nature of a surgery. If I could I would cut myself and bleed this poison, the bad blood gushing out in ribbons, adorning a wonderful present, my life back.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Angela Fama (48)

-Mirrorface 09: Angela-

Angela writes:

Almost 4 years ago, just after my 30th birthday, I was driving my black '76 firebird, when I got T-boned by a bus that resulted in nearly killing me (a mm away... quick coma, fractured skull and a brain injury to boot). I am a photographer, who had been straying from my real love (ART!), driving to an editorial shot for a designer friend, focusing on the world of commercial, so far from that real love... same pot, yet at the heart of it, totally different soup. I also ended up having my left shooting eye, the one right where the fractured skull was underneath, blood glued shut and close to being totally out of commission. Needless to say, it was a little shocking when I woke up in a hospital with a neck brace and a lot of people (family, friends, nurses) all standing around in a half moon staring at me... also needless to say, after a long, slow, mellow recovery, mostly all in my head (aka brain injury), the accident resulted in serious life changes for me. Thankfully and luckily enough, more in my mind and heart than my the body and it's abilities. I ended up with a scar on my forehead, a few other facial scars that are barely visible and everything working just fine. Brain injuries are a strange event, they take a long, non-visually aided (no broken foot to watch heal or explain the pain), time and in the beginning, it's like being a really smart kid while you're brain is busy healing. You can stand, talk, move, hang out at home but you might not remember the intelligent, revealing conversation you just had and simply don't have the brain energy to care for all the walls and conceived realities we build up around our lives, our minds are too busy healing to get into our heads and twist and create messy ideas or concepts. It took me over a year to get back at things fully and since then I have been switching my focus back to my first love, art. This decision resulted in showing at my first "real" gallery, Elliot Louis, and since then, my current body of work, Mirrorface, which I shot while still taking things "easy" in recovery, has just shown solo in 2 collaborating "real" galleries (Grace Gallery and ON MAIN). Thanks to my shock, I have the pride and confidence to say again, I am an artist, first and foremost. We only live once in this world and every second counts.

Summer Geraghty (47)

-From the Project: "Self-Test Necklaces I, II, III", Self-Test III-
Multi-media installation
Summer writes:

I wish not to be myself; not human, not made of skin, not static and dormant within one mind and body set.
My pieces are not imagery; they are equations of my personality. With varying media, I explore divergent areas of my psyche. My works are the manifestations of my history, thoughts and theories. Religiosity, abuse, abjection, identity, stages of life and ephemerality are sectors that preoccupy my mind. All my pieces are forms of portraiture; they emanate from personal experiences and then broaden with others’.
Self-Test Necklace III materialized from a Hirudotherapy session with ten leeches. Documenting both the session and the aftermath was vital because the notion of healing is as important as the act of endurance. The singularity of the experience invoked the understanding that any living organism requires sustenance and that I was happy to become the host. Wishing to renovate the parasitic nature of humanity by transferring my position to that of the host, I allowed the leeches to drink from me. As Hirudotherapy is used for medicinal purposes, the act of bloodletting is necessary for the rejuvenation of new blood. As I allowed this to transpire, my thought process was to document it as the beginning of a cathartic process, one that resulted in a five day photography record in which the bites and bruising healed. The main aspect to abjection, for me, is the catharsis that emerges from it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sally Piller (46)

-Wrist Surgery-
moku hanga woodblock print

Sally writes:

I always had very strong hands and love to use them in intricate ways. I am a printmaker by trade and my specialty is making woodblock prints. I've been making them for about 35 years. Hands are so essential to the life of a human being, particularly an artist. I took my hands for granted and after hammering away and using hand pressure to create a self portrait woodblock print, they started to go numb, then came searing pain at night. I had given myself a nasty case of carpal tunnel syndrome. I know, nothing to compare to some of the life threatening experiences of other stories in this series, but it surprised me that I had been so careless with a part of my body that is so integral to my identity. Both hands were affected, not surprisingly, because when one got tired I'd switch to the other. I've always been somewhat ambidextrous. So I had surgery on one hand, the right, after which they both improved. I guess this happens. Nerves are funny things. My hands still go numb though. And they are not nearly as strong as before. Artists! Don't take your hands for granted!

This moku hanga woodblock print is called "Wrist Surgery". The broken feather represents my messed up hand.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chris Aerfeldt (45)

'Red, red heart' from the series 'Silver threads and golden needles (cannot mend this heart of mine)'.

About the series, Chris writes:

For some time I have been intrigued by small 17th century Dutch genre paintings, such as those by Vermeer, Teniers, van Mieris, and Dou, depicting women in the home. I have been mulling over the meanings and stories behind these paintings (by men) of beautiful yet moralising pictures (of women).
This entire series 'Silver threads and golden needles (cannot mend this heart of mine)' this piece is a part of, can be traced back to one small painting that I saw in the Musee Fabre in Montpellier, the Enfileuse de perles (which translates as ‘Female pearl threader’) and is by the 17th century Dutch artist Frans van Mieris. In it we see a young woman in the privacy of her own boudoir, sitting at a table looking towards us whilst threading a string of pearls, with her maid in the background. Each time I see it I am transfixed by the woman with the ambiguous expression on her face, trying to work out what is inside her head.
I started doing some research ... In French the verb enfiler (to thread), which is at the root of enfileuse, has a double meaning, and also refers to the sexual act. The eye of the needle is called a chas in French, which when spoken sounds exactly like chat (cat). This can be extended to chatte (a female cat), which is the French equivalent of the English ‘pussy’. So threading pearls may not be as innocent as it appears.