On the eve of Breast Cancer Awareness Month coming up in October, Dr. Felicia Marie Knaul, director of the University of Miami Institute for the Americas, has a message for the many women around the world who have been confronted with the devastating disease.
A breast cancer survivor, Knaul spoke alongside her husband, UM President Julio Frenk, on Tuesday evening about stigmas that surround cancer, specifically in treatment, and the need to empower those who are facing it, at the opening of Pink Powder, an exhibition on view at the Otto G. Richter Library.
“The beauty of women is not specific to our exterior,” Knaul said during a reception held in the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion, her words echoing a unifying message in a series of works owned by the de la Cruz Collection and brought to UM through a collaboration of the Libraries and Miami Institute for the Americas with contributions by the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Lowe Art Museum in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Frost School of Music.
Knaul was inspired to initiate the installment in part from her own experience in battling breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 2007.
“One of the biggest obstacles in being able to detect and treat women’s cancers, particularly breast cancer, is this tremendous fear of what it will do to our bodies. We are afraid of abandonment. We are afraid of disfigurement,” she said at the event.
The exhibition includes works in various forms related to the female body and identity, from the “earth-body” work of Cuban-American pioneer performance artist Ana Mendieta to the drawings of female bodies as plants by Miami native Naomi Fisher, and from the confessional work of British artist Tracy Emin to the autobiographical video of Berlin-based artist Susanne Winterling.
“Pink Powder is a group of artists that are trying to address the woman’s body, through a woman’s form,” said Rosa de la Cruz, co-founder of the de la Cruz Collection. “And here you have artists from Ana Mendieta, the performing artist, to the work of Tracy Emin, which is totally autobiographical, and you see how these women are encouraging us to have a conversation on the healing power of the visual arts.”
President Julio Frenk said the exhibition reflects an aspect of work at the University and within the University of Miami Institute for the Americas related to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. “Breast cancer affects people of all socioeconomic groups and all countries of the world. There’s the emotional connection to the system, that is actually life threatening if it is not treated correctly,” Frenk said. “The arts are a vehicle to derive meaning from the human experience. And that’s why this exhibit is so powerful.”
On view in the library through the month of October, the exhibition is an initiative of the University’s Galleries, Libraries, and Museums (GLAM) sector, which supports collaboration between libraries and museums as rich repositories of ideas, objects, and insights into how we think, who we are, and the stories we tell. “We are proud to host this powerful series of works by female artists,” said Chuck Eckman, dean of the University of Miami Libraries.
The event closed with a performance on keyboard by Justina Shandler, a graduate student and songwriter in the Frost School, inspired by a family friend’s battle with cancer. From Shandler’s Easy to Be Afraid:
Pick up your head, pick up your pencil
Get out of bed, get in the light
Pick up some bread and you can break it with a friend
Pick up your friend and hold her tight
Pick up all the stardust you can find in your life