I am now in Glasgow and, with thanks to the generosity of the Wellcome Trust, I have begun my three month long research visit to the Medical Humanities Research Centre at Glasgow University. I am writing a paper in which I hope will put the Drawing Women’s Cancer project into historical and philosophical context. All of the work up to now has been directly concerned with the here and now – with the experiences of women in the present – and this of course was the primary aim from the beginning. I feel however that to enhance the validity and indeed the credibility of the work, it is very necessary to ‘ground’ the project in relation to what has gone before. Here is a pertinent section of the proposal that WT approved:
The paper will look at how perceptions of the woman patient between the 18th century rise of obstetrics and the ‘man-midwife’ persona of William Hunter and his Scottish contemporaries, through the 19th century advancement of gynaecology to the present day treatment of gynaecological disease, have influenced present day attitudes – both medical and general – towards gynaecological illness and its overall impact on women’s lives, and moreover, how these attitudes were and can be affected by and through visual art. I will focus on a methodological and philosophical comparison of Hunter’s Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (drawings by Jan Van Rymsdyk) and the development of my own drawings for Drawing Women’s Cancer as a basis from which to explore how visual art as a form of expression and communication can, as a form of ‘metalanguage’, effectively serve to ‘speak the unspeakable’ in this area women’s health.
It is the historical context that has been engaging my thoughts over the last few days and I have had the privilege of being able to make drawings from the very subjects that Rymsdyk worked from, which are now preserved in the University Anatomy Museum. I have also been able to view the actual drawings for the Gravid Uterus that are held here in the Library’s Special Collections.
It is from Rymsdyk’s work that medicine was able to take huge leaps in understanding the woman’s reproductive system but for me, even beyond that, the drawings themselves are much more than scientifically oriented illustrations. I have a far deeper understanding of the sensitvity and artistry of the man from seeing and feeling first hand the power of drawing to communicate and express, and from an ‘artist-to-artist’ perspective the experience has allowed me to take my own leaps in terms of how I feel about my own practice in relation to Drawing Women’s Cancer and the other art and medicine projects I am currently working on.
This post carries some of the drawings I have been doing in the museum – I will post more over the next few weeks. Some may find the drawings difficult, but please be assured that the intention behind them is not to upset but rather to celebrate the capacity of drawing to express such subjectivity