Student Artwork Featured at Baylor Scott & White Portrays the Beauty and Harsh Reality of Breast Cancer
- Baylor University senior Ellie Jeung created an image depicting how cancer affects both the individual and their loved ones. (Photo by Cacey Vigil)
- Winter Rusiloski, M.F.A., assistant professor of art, and her students critique pieces for display at Baylor Scott & White McClinton Cancer Center (Photo by Lisa Fehsenfeld)
by Cacey Vigil, student newswriter, Baylor University Media and Public Relations
WACO, Texas (Oct. 21, 2019) – Baylor University art students have created paintings inspired by breast cancer survivors that will be on display in the lobby of Baylor Scott & White McClinton Cancer Center in support of local breast cancer survivors through the month of October.
Students were tasked to create a piece that would embody both the beauty and harsh reality of breast reconstruction and breast cancer.
Last spring, the Cancer Center approached Mark Anderson, M.F.A., professor and chair of the department of art and art history in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences, about having an exhibition for breast cancer awareness and breast reconstruction awareness.
Anderson approached Winter Rusiloski, M.F.A., assistant professor of art, who agreed to take on the project. She wanted her students to create a piece that was meaningful not only to the community, but to the students as well. She said that in the advanced classes, students are tasked with creating a painting that addresses a social, political or humanitarian subject.
“One of the things we try to talk about, especially in the advanced classes, is why are we making art? What are we saying?” Rusiloski said. “I wanted them to address something contemporary, something that’s happening now. It could be issue oriented, political or human concern, so I decided that this project fits into that.”
To be as informed as possible about breast cancer and breast reconstruction, Rusiloski’s class collaborated with Dana Dean, Ph.D., lecturer in biology at Baylor. Dean teaches histology, which is the study of microscopic structures of cells, tissues and organs, and sent the class a PowerPoint with images of healthy cells and tissues versus cells with breast cancer so students could find inspiration for their paintings.
“I have been using a lot of those images as a jumping-off point for my painting,” Waverly Kundysek, a pre-med biology major from Dallas, Texas, said. “I wanted to take the images and convey them in an abstract painting.”
Kundysek used wax, known as encaustic painting, as her medium. It’s a natural medium and mirrors the natural processes being studied to figure out why cancers happen and how to treat them, she said.
“I saw the connection between nature and human physiology,” Kundysek said. “A lot of my paintings have circles in them to represent cells. I want the viewer to feel like they’re looking under the microscope and see where cancer originates from.”
She used pinks and purples to represent what doctors see when they look at tissues under a microscope before declaring a diagnosis. She also incorporated mixed media such as fibers, handwoven materials and lace into her painting.
“I wanted to show that these women are so beautiful and what they’ve gone through is a transformational experience, but they’re still so strong like the fibers,” Kundysek said. “They’re not going to break if you stretch them a little bit.”
Combining art and medicine
Kundysek, who is in Dean’s histology class, has been able to combine her two passions of medicine and art through this project. Before taking on this project, she thought of art and medicine as two very distinct things.
“I’ve realized the methodology and intentions behind scientific processes can overlap into art and the way that I create,” Kundysek said.
Along with the slides provided by Dean, students conducted research of their own to gain more insight on breast cancer. Senior Ellie Jeung, a University Scholar from Austin, Texas conducted her research through interviewing breast cancer survivors.
The project was difficult at first for Jeung because she had never been personally affected by breast cancer. But to relate and understand the experience these women go through, she decided the best way to gain insight was through interviewing survivors.
She knew by reaching out she was asking a lot — having breast cancer and fighting it is a very private experience. However, one woman reached out to her and was very open to discussing her experience with breast cancer. She also spoke with her daughter, which provided Jeung two different perceptions of breast cancer.
“From the mom’s perspective, she felt all the fatigue in her body because of the treatment. She felt so weak and like she was falling short as a mom for her kids,” Jeung said. “But her daughter saw a completely different image; she saw so much strength in her mom. She was fighting and still made it to family celebrations even though she was so physically drained all the time.”
Seeing those two perspectives inspired Jeung to create an image that showed how cancer not only affects the individual, but it affects their loved ones as well.
“All of us carry such private experiences, especially those involving pain, so for her there must have been an isolation she felt being diagnosed with breast cancer and fighting it,” Jeung said.
Creativity through critical thinking
Through this project, students gained a lot of knowledge and learned how to approach difficult topics in a sensitive way.
“They were challenged to address something that is a difficult subject and had to think about, ‘How can I do this with honesty and integrity?’” Rusiloski said. “They did a lot of critical thinking, they gained from research and listening to each other. Whether it was more clinical and scientific or emphasizing human feelings and memories, or beauty and body image, it caused them to think about things they usually wouldn’t think about.”
This project also has been a way to provide hope and show the people who experience breast cancer, or any type of cancer, they’re still beautiful.
“Even though it can be frustrating when your body is failing you for a second, but you have ways to come out of it,” Kundysek said. “As we’re figuring out why these things happen, it’s important to rely, have hope and have faith.”
The exhibit is free and open to the public. The student’s artwork will be on display through the end of October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Cancer Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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