A Cancer Landscape: a powerful new exhibition in Brighton

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By | Events and Visits, The Researcher’s View

Margaret Felton from Sussex Community NHS Trust reflects on the emotional impact of an upcoming exhibition at the Brighton Science Festival.

It was not until I heard artist and cancer patient Michele Angelo Petrone (1963-2007) talk about and show the emotional response to his cancer journey that I realised how far I was from the emotional trauma of people with a cancer experience. One of the most powerful things that Michele said was:

My journey has two intertwined threads – elements which mirror each other as exactly as the two chains of the double helix. One is the medical history. The physical injury, the illness… The parallel thread is my emotional response. The disbelief, the grief, the doubt, the flung out, the anger, the banter, the bargaining, the accepting…

Painting by Michele Angelo Petrone

‘The Pain of It All’, a painting by Michele Angelo Petrone created 1996-2008. Wellcome Images reference: B0009948.

A Cancer Landscape is a collaborative exhibition at the ONCA Gallery. Paintings by Michele Angelo Petrone represent his emotional experience of cancer alongside biomedical and diagnostic images from Wellcome Images. Also featured in the exhibition are artworks by people affected by cancer. These were created during a series of workshops held at ONCA in 2014. The exhibition is led by Sussex Community NHS Trust and runs from 16-28 February 2015 as part of the Brighton Science Festival.

B0007208 Lung cancer cells Credit: Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK. Wellcome Images Lung cancer cells. Scanning electron micrograph

Scanning electron micrograph of lung cancer cells. Credit: Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK, Wellcome Images. Wellcome Images reference: B0007208.

One of the aims of the exhibition is to encourage dialogue about the disease by showing different cancer perspectives or landscapes. I have been working within the NHS for twenty years primarily to improve the general public’s understanding of cancer. Ultimately we want people to get early diagnosis and treatment and to live well even with episodes of cancer.

Sharing experiences

The workshops associated with the exhibition gave a group of people who had experienced cancer the opportunity to work in the gallery with supportive art therapists and share their experiences through a range of textures and materials. They created their own artworks by exploring their family landscape, their own bodies as landscape, as well as their emotional and environmental landscapes.

The resulting images and emotions expressed are extremely powerful, raw and compelling. A diagnosis of cancer and a description of the treatments entailed tell you about the disease. Take a look at these images and you will see and feel what it is like to have cancer and the hope, fear and love that come with it.

Painting by Michele Angelo Petrone

‘The Healing Touch’ a painting by Michele Angelo Petrone, created 1996-2008. Wellcome Images reference: B0009945.

Having clear images of how the physical impacts on the emotional allowed me to validate what people felt and they in turn could share, discuss and paint their own feelings. Then we were able to begin a dialogue around the enormous and diverse subject that is cancer.

Cancer resources

When Michele died in 2007 the MAP Foundation inherited his archive of cancer works and other images relating to his own cancer journey as well as over 100 sketch books, information on previous workshops with patients, and evaluations of exhibitions that toured all over Brighton and Hove and East Sussex. The archive was given to the Wellcome Library in November 2012 where, in due course, it will be catalogued and made available for research.

This ground breaking exhibition explores cancer as both a physical reality and an emotional journey. Visitors will have an opportunity to contribute to this living landscape as it transforms the gallery, and throughout the exhibition there will be information about cancer risks, screening and information about cancer in general.

If you find yourself anywhere near Brighton in February, come and take a look – and it’s free!

Author: Margaret Felton is a Health Promotion Specialist in the Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Team at Sussex Community Health NHS Trust.

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