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Topica : Healing Wounds With Art : Exhibit: 12 artists shed light on their battle with breast cancer. The show's organizer says more women are dying because 'nobody talks about' the disease.


She Could Not Go Back To

The Way She Was. Breast

Cancer Had Changed Her Life

For Ever. Now She Knew

How Little Control She

Had Over Her Life.

--Hollis Sigler, artist, 1993

Hollis Sigler has not let her battle with breast cancer diminish her creativity. To the contrary: After the Chicago artist was first diagnosed with the disease about eight years ago, her paintings began to directly address breast cancer.

"She makes these really strong, not just political but emotional statements. They are real personal," said Marian Winsryg, an adjunct art professor at Santa Monica College and a friend of Sigler's for almost 20 years--ever since Sigler was her student at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia.

After seeing Sigler's work, Winsryg began thinking about organizing an art show on the subject of breast cancer. The clincher, she says, came when she learned that two other artist friends, Susan E. King and Barbara Foster, also had the disease.

The result is "One in Eight: Women and Breast Cancer," an exhibit by 12 artists who have had breast cancer. The show opens Friday at the Santa Monica College Art Gallery, with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m.

The "One in Eight" in the exhibit's title refers to an estimate that one in eight American women will get breast cancer in their lifetimes.

"Nobody wants to deal with illness," Winsryg said. "Half the reason women die of breast cancer is because nobody talks about it. Not that a mammogram or breast self-exam is going to save you, but they alert you. And like any disease, the earlier it's caught, the better chance you have for a longer life."

The art exhibit has been organized in conjunction with two free panel discussions on the subject on Friday. Among the speakers are renowned breast cancer expert Dr. Susan Love; P.J. Viviansayles, a breast cancer survivor and coordinator of the Women of Color Breast Cancer Survivors Support Project; Esther Dreifuss-Kattan, author of "Cancer Stories: Creativity and Self Repair", and artists Sigler and King.


"I didn't want to just do a show of women who have breast cancer and leave it at that," said Winsryg, 53, who has not had the disease. "I didn't want it to be just political, but to make it useful. It got real exciting to think about a dialogue with different health practitioners talking about their fields of expertise."

Not all of the work by the ethnically diverse group of artists in the show deals directly with breast cancer. Bonnie Frankel presents completely abstract paintings. Della Rossa has contributed photographs of young Latino gang members.

But artists who have confronted the disease head-on in their art have found the effort essential and rewarding.

"I was compelled to do this work for myself and for other people, too," said Lavialle Campbell, 40, who had a mastectomy six years ago and went through chemotherapy. Among her works on view is the assemblage, "Left Breast, No Nipple," which displays her old breast prosthesis on a saw blade on black velvet.

"I lost friends. I don't know if it was because I had cancer or (specifically) breast cancer. One friend, when she found out I had breast cancer, she completely cut me off," she said.

King was diagnosed in 1989 as having breast cancer.

"I went in for a mammogram, and it just started me on this whole medical odyssey," said King, 46, who had a partial mastectomy and radiation treatment.

King's "Treading the Maze: An Artist's Book of Daze," intertwines images and text of a European trip and her medical ordeal.


The images include a photo of a statue of Hebe, the cup bearer of the Gods who was connected to the Tree of Life; a photograph of the rose window at Chartres Cathedral in France; a sketch of a similarly patterned array of lasers on a radiation room wall, and a doctor's drawing of invasive cancer.

Campbell said that in some respects, having breast cancer was a positive experience.

"As bad as it was, it's one of the best things that happened to me," she said. "I've always had a lot of feelings that I didn't deal with. Now, I live the way I want to live."

Said Della Rossa, who had a mastectomy at 60 and is now 73: "I've survived breast cancer and gone on with my life."

Other artists in the show are Vida Hackman, Rosalyn Mesquita, Keiko Nelson, Betsy Noorzay, Annabelle Simon Cahn and Ruth Weisberg.

"One in Eight: Women and Breast Cancer " opens tomorrow with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. at Santa Monica College Art Gallery, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Panel discussions in the Concert Hall will take place from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. Reception and panel discussions are free and open to the public.

Gallery Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Show ends April 23. Closed April 11-16. Information : (310) 452-9231.

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