Angela Elkins is a recent graduate of the Watkins College of Art and Design, in Nashville, Tennessee. The images in this exhibit were taken from her senior show, U-tear-us Out. The Watkins College website says U-tear-us Out “questions the commonality of hysterectomies in our country today through the use of sculpture and digital images. Through personal connection and bodily disconnection, it asks women to reconnect and respect their natural bodies.”
From the Curator
As a result of Pitocin administered to speed up the birth of her daughter, Angela Elkins was hysterectomized at the age of 24. Angela was not informed of the well-documented dangers of Pitocin. Nor was she informed of how her body and her life would be permanently altered by the removal of her uterus. “Since then,” Angela says, “my art has been about my experience, education, and healing. I want to help others with what I know and to open a conversation about what is going on with feminine issues, such as senseless hysterectomies, alternatives to hysterectomy, the natural body, and the medical community in our country.”
The photo on the previous page provides an overview of Angela’s “Senior Show” exhibit U-tear-us Out, at Watkins College of Art and Design in Nashville. The exhibit includes Anne Sexton’s poem “In Celebration Of My Uterus” scrawled on a glass wall, 9 images taken from a laparoscopic video, a handmade dress, four collages, 50 uterus sculptures hung on a wall, and a wreath.
The child’s coral red dress in the first image of the exhibit is titled “Birthright.” Angela found the dress, but added a rather remarkable detail. Under the dress, so it can be seen through the sheer material, is a uterus with fallopian tubes and ovaries, embroidered and decorated with pearls. “It is placed where the uterus would be,” Angela says. “It is feminine, beautiful, and soft. Sewn and tended to like a beautiful garden–a place where cultivation of life takes place. This piece is sweetly paying homage to becoming a woman, the miracle of childbearing, and motherhood. The dress indicates a youth-filled girl not yet of puberty, reminiscent of innocence… With this piece I wanted to show an embracing of womanhood, respecting and being captivated by our bodies and how they work.”
The 9 images in pink shimmer frames shown together are aptly titled “Beautiful Inside.” The digitally-enhanced images were taken from a video of a laparoscopy, recorded during exploratory surgery performed on Angela. Angela says of the photoshopped images, “Everyone seems to be repulsed by the sight of our insides, our blood, what fills our skin. So I took these images and made them beautiful.” The images include views of her ovaries and uterus prior to the hysterectomy.
In the 4 mixed-media collages, the women and the girl are represented as sheep and the doctor as a wolf, “almost a Little Red Riding Hood type of mythology,” Angela says. The images harken back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when hysterectomy experimentation led to popularizing the surgery for benign conditions, to curb women’s sexual appetite, and to prevent women from masturbating, among other medically unwarranted reasons. “The women’s bodies show a hole in the abdomen with pink thread stitching it closed,” Angela says. “This stitching shows the signs of hysterectomy but also the hideous scar that is left and the emptiness that is felt.” The first image is of a woman “suspended in glitter” who “seems magical and is the healer that was cast aside.” The last image is titled “Three Protectors”–three grey hysterectomized women protect a rosy child wearing a dress similar to the “birthright” dress in the first image. The collages were created on mirrors, which seem to ask us to take a look at ourselves and the environment of hysterectomy we live in, while “asking the question of how much things have really changed,” Angela says.
Angela then created an installation of 50 uterine sculptures out of silicone, with fallopian tubes and ovaries, inspired by the 1971 installation, “The Boarders at Rest,” by French artist Annette Messager. This work is graphic, but each uterus is draped in a tiny sweater, knitted by Angela’s 91-year-old hysterectomized grandmother, Nanny. Angela fixed the sculptures to the wall with tiny meat hooks in the pattern of a drove of sheep in a field. Each sheep is unique in the field, but they are ultimately led to slaughter, which she compares to women being led to hospitals to be hysterectomized. Others might associate this work with Anne Sexton’s poem scrawled on the glass wall, “Everyone in me is a bird,” and see the 50 uterine sculptures as a flock of migrating birds.
The final image in the exhibit is a wreath displayed on a stand like a funeral memorial. Adorning the wreath are small uteri with fallopain tubes and ovaries wrapped in plastic, tied with a bow, with notes on them that say “Save A Uterus” with “www.hersfoundation.org” beneath it.
U-tear-us Out is a brave, diverse exhibit. HERS Gallery is pleased to present the bold, thought-provoking, educational work of Angela Elkins.