by Maryrose Kiernan
Size – 28cm x 29cm
Size – 28cm x 29cm
As one of many thousands of women who had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy for Breast Cancer, I was left physically and mentally scarred during the treatment processes and for many years afterwards. I lost my left breast, which covered and protected my heart. I felt vulnerable and naked. I could feel more acutely the beat of my heart without its protective breast. It took 8 years before I got a reconstructed implant. While there was still a permanent scar on the breast skin with the reconstruction, I felt my heart had regained some protection.
I looked back and wondered why I did not do a ‘before’ and ‘after’ art piece – but I don’t think I would have had the courage to do it back then. In my mind, the exposure would have been too much. Eventually, as I reengaged in art, I began working in bronze sculpture. It was then that I knew I wanted to represent ‘my cancer experience’ in a bronze art piece.
I have always been fascinated with antiquity, particularly warrior women of the past. Bronze itself changed the world for our ancestors. Breastplates have been used by various cultures from antiquity. A breast plate was traditionally a device worn over the torso to protect it from injury, as an item of religious significance, or as an item of status. I wanted to represent my skin with its protective qualities and its ‘battle scars’ in the form of a re-found bronze breast plate, holding me together during and after Cancer.
The front of the piece replicates my breast and skin and the back of piece replicates the bark of a tree. Trees are sacred to our ancestors – symbolic doorways to the ethereal ‘Otherworld’ of Spirit. Trees gave daily sustenance, medicine, protection and living spiritual beliefs. The bark of a tree is similar to human skin. The bark of the tree provides storage of water, metabolic regulation, and wound healing contributions to the life of the tree. Just like human skin, the functions of the bark are linked to its complex structure. Just as the skin, tree bark can easily be damaged and its ecosystem changed by the scars inflicted upon it.
In this piece, I hoped the vulnerabilities, strength , resilience and symbiotic aspects of humankind and nature are represented by the welding together of the bark on one side and the body on the other. We cannot live outside nature but are a part of it. ‘Diseases’ impact both humankind and nature. When we work together we can become strong, in spite of our fragilities. Our existence depends on, not only how we care for each other, but how we care for all species and the earth itself.
Maryrose is also a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and group analyst.
She is interested how Art influences our lives and how it helps us to understand ourselves in the world.