Living Breast Cancer: The Art of Hollis Sigler

Laura E. Tanner, Boston College
Vol. 32, No. 2/Vol. 33, No. 1 (Fall 2013/Spring 2014), 219-239

Using theories of space, phenomenology, and the body, this essay frames the visual art of Hollis Sigler’s Breast Cancer Journal within the sometimes conflicting contexts of illness and the everyday. Sigler captures the dynamic of bodily alienation accompanying illness not by focusing on the changed contours of the female form but by returning again and again to the haunting defamiliarization of domestic space. Her images circumvent the objectifying dynamics of the gaze by withholding access to the spectacle of the female form; instead, they invite the viewer to imaginatively inhabit spaces that press uncomfortably against the body that would occupy them. In representing the psychic landscape of her breast cancer experience through the dynamics of space, in other words, Sigler chooses not to turn away from the body in illness but to complicate the viewer’s understanding of it. Her art thus resists the structures of objectification that often accompany visual culture representations of breast cancer even as it charts the tensions of embodied subjectivity that shape the lived experience of illness.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]