Matuschka: The Beauty of Damage
Photography has always had the power to affect the viewer, for better or worst. Whether it's an ad image designed to increase a company's sales or a blurry image exposing torture and abuse, a powerful photograph cannot be ignored. Artist Matuschka made the same impact over a decade ago, raising breast cancer awareness in a way that couldn't be ignored with her self-portrait entitled "Beauty of Damage".
Matuschka was born Joanne Matuschka in New Jersey. She lost both her parents at a young age, which made her to run away from home. Fortunately, she came under the guidance of a foster mother who recognized her artistic talent and encouraged the growth of her creativity. Since her start as a professional artist, Matuschka has worked with different mediums including photography, and has exhibited her artworks around the world. She has also combined her artistic endeavors with her social activism.
In 1991, Matuschka underwent a mastectomy (a surgical operation involving one or both breasts). Instead of hiding her scars, she took the opportunity to shift her art and activism to spreading more awareness about breast cancer. She shifted the focus of her nude self-portraits to prominently feature the absence of her right breast.
Her self-portrait collection focusing on breast cancer slowly grew in number and was named Beauty of Damage, a series designed to show the beauty of the woman despite physical afflictions. One image in particular would later gain worldwide acclaim due to its graphic nature and the medium in which it was published. It shows the artist leaning against a bare wall looking towards the light. She wears a white dress that covers her body except for a large open patch revealing her mastectomy scar on her right side.
When the image was published as the cover of The New York Times in August 1993, it provoked responses from both the extreme left and right. Some cancer survivors felt that they were being unnecessarily exposed while others saw it as the next step towards gaining more acceptance in public. The cover photograph was so striking that The New York Times received more mail than any other time in its history up to that point.
While the photographed garnered numerous awards, she slowly began to focus on other subjects. Her last photographic self-portrait was made in 1994 because in her own words,"...I don't want to spend the rest of my life in cancer land". She has since moved on to other projects and mediums, but she continues to work with the spirit of her tireless activism.
This is Matuschka's website. The Beauty of Damage website has more information on the cancer survivor artist and the picture of her bare right chest. This New York Times article (PDF) was the feature article of that August 1993 and provides great insight into how breast cancer was viewed back then.