Sunday, March 9, 2014

Art for a Cause: Fighting Ovarian Cancer

Art can be many things: an expression of self or emotion, an interpretation of a dream, an escape, a challenge, a passion, a goal. It can also be a means of calling attention to something important, a cause. That is what I'd like to use it for today.

Yesterday was International Women's Day. In honor of women and their contributions to the world, I'd like to talk to how we can give back to promote longer, healthier lives for women around the world. Foundation for Women's Cancer is a non-profit dedicated to funding research and training, and ensuring education and public awareness of gynecologic cancer prevention. "Gynecologic" refers to cancers affecting the female reproductive system, so these are cancers all women are at risk of one day developing. The most life-threatening of these is ovarian cancer.

The American Cancer Society released data citing that approximately 22,200 women in the US are newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year and tragically, approximately 14,000 will pass away due to ovarian cancer within that same year. Ovarian cancer now ranks 4th in cancer-related deaths among women. However, as it is not ranked in the top 5 most threatening cancers overall, it is not a cancer that the ACS specifically fundraises for. That is why I am typing on behalf of the FWC today.

My family unfortunately knows the effects of ovarian cancer all too well, as that is how I lost my mother last August. She was 55 years old. She loved horses and snowmen, singing in the car, and sitting in sunshine. She worked hard every day of her life, never complained, and always tried to make our lives easier. She was the funniest person I've ever known and brought that humor into everything, even her fight with cancer. Her journey is what compels me to share with you today because before she was diagnosed, none of this information on gynecologic cancers was known to me. Like I anticipate is the case for many of you, breast cancer was the only "female" cancer I had heard about. That needs to change.

But this is an art blog. Art needs to lead the way here. With that in mind, I'd like to share three artists with you today that also battled ovarian cancer, in the hopes of highlighting just how important it is that we do what we can to help in the fight against this disease.

Rita Angus (March 12, 1908 - January 25, 1970)
Rita Angus was one of New Zealand's most significant artists, a painter whose modern works were loved across her country. At age 19, she moved to Christchurch to attend art school and she caught on quickly. She felt drawn to the modernist aesthetic and began to formulate her style, coupled with a developing awareness of her status as a woman artist. During the 1940s, she deeply opposed WWII as a pacifist, this coming across in her paintings through displays of harmony, balance, and nature. She was a keen traveler, though otherwise solitary in a pointed effort to give committed focus to her art. Her final project, a series of paintings of the Boulton Street cemetery in Wellington, remains unfinished as she passed away at 62 in January 1970. She had initiated the project when she learned that the cemetery was to be bulldozed for a new motor-way. "This is subject matter not likely to be repeated in my lifetime," she had written.

Her style was crisp, clear, and subtle. Her colors were smooth and blended. She focused on landscapes, portraits, and self-portraits, like the one seen at above. More information on Angus's oeuvre can be found at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa website and The Estate of Rita Angus.

Nancy Graves 
(December 23, 1939 - October 21, 1995)
Nancy Graves was an American post-minimalist painter, sculptor, printmaker, and filmmaker that made her start in the New York art scene in the 1960s with life size sculptures of camels. Abstraction and naturalism were persistent themes throughout Graves' work and career. She attended Vasser College where she received an English degree in 1961, then attended Yale were she achieved her BA and MA in Fine Arts by 1964. She was curious and open-minded, moving from sculpture to painting in the 1970s (incorporating abstract interpretations of maps and charts of the ocean's floor and surface of the moon), to lost-wax and bronze by the end of the 1970s, to printmaking, to experimentation with hand-blown glass and poly-optics by the end of her career. Between 1970 and 1974, Graves also produced 5 films - Two of which were shot on location in Morocco and featured herds of camels. She passed away at 56.

More information on Graves' life and work can be found at the National Gallery of Art website and The Nancy Graves Foundation.

Margi Scharff 
(February 11, 1955 - July 2, 2007)
Margi Scharff was an American mixed-media artist that combined traditional and non-traditional materials into works influenced by her many travels. She worked with drawing, installations, photography, collage, and sculpture. She was exceptionally fond of travel, having no permanent residence for the last few years of her life. This love for exploring and adventure started at age 18 when she went on a 6-month journey to Europe, unaccompanied. Her early career featured room-sized installations, her most known of which was "The Night Room." "The Night Room" was built in tribute to Scharff's mother who passed away from breast cancer in the 1980s. In 2000 she initiated "Raw Material: From the Road in Asia" - A project that (up until her death in 2007) realized 200 small-scale collages fashioned out of trash and paper found on the roadside as she traveled through Asia. She kept a travel log and photographs of the experience, even exhibiting her works in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh along the way.

Margi Scharff, Jumbo Perfect
Mixed Asia, 2004
Margi had a blog, documenting her many travels and experiences and I think it is one that definitely deserves a visit. The last few entries come from her family and friends, bringing Margi's journey full circle through not just her eyes, but also through those of her loved ones. Her last exhibition took place at Overtones Gallery in LA, where her art estate is also housed.

To quote her, "I have known that...I might not have a long life. It may have been one of the things that gave me strength and courage to go out and do these journeys." [Ref. 2006 interview here]. She was 52.

These women were strong, vibrant contributors to their communities and the world through their artistic vision and prowess. They made their worlds a brighter place by sharing their gifts. At 62, 56, and 52...From my perspective, they went too soon.

Ovarian, along with breast cancer, may have hereditary tendencies due to mutations in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. Awareness on this hereditary link was raised when actress Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy in response to finding out she was positive for BRCA 1 in early 2013. Like Jolie, my mother had the faulty BRCA gene. I don't yet know if I do too, but I know that is a challenge I will have to face in less than ten years. It is important, with odds like these, for all women to routinely visit the doctor and get checkups. Most gynecologic cancers can be prevented or treated successfully when caught early, through vigilance.

Mom fought for 4.5 roller coaster years with cancer and even though she's now in Heaven, I can't say that cancer won. She always continued to have hope, humor, and faith and did not let the disease take away her life - She lived her days fully until the ones she had been allotted were up. We are blessed to have known and been raised by her and want to continue on with the strength, positivity, and determination she instilled in us. We want to fight - We now know all too well the rigors of this disease and hope that others families won't have to go through what ours, and those of Rita, Nancy, and Margi, did.

To make this happen, the researchers, the doctors, nurses, caregivers, and advocates need the financial support to keep fighting for us. In Mom's memory, in honor of the artists above and all women that have fought with cancer, and in hope for the daughters and granddaughters of this generation, we want to make a significant impact. My father and brother have committed to The Great Floridian Ironman in October. This will be my dad's second Ironman and my brother's first. They are racing to raise $50,000 for the Foundation for Women's Cancer and intend to match whatever they receive up to $50,000 as well. All donations are tax deductible and even more appreciated. Please help us make a difference and stand up to help end women's cancers.

1 comment:

  1. It’s very heartwarming that you give another definition for art, like using it as a token that gives honor to those who are currently going through their fight with ovarian cancer. Such representations, like your paintings, will definitely create and spread awareness and compassion for the fighters and survivors of that kind of condition.

    Alison Perris