Breast Cancer Answers Art Gallery

CAFETERIA

I had a dream in which I saw chemotherapy disguised and served by my in-laws: layered vanilla and chocolate pudding in desert glasses in which the chocolate stripes were made from the toxic chemicals of chemotherapy, and cantaloupe with the slices turned inside out to form a turban, its hidden inside fruit was toxic. Once awake I began to try to recapture the dream picture by using my imagination. What else was being served at this strange cafeteria?

Mixed Media
© 1991, Betsy Noorzay

What about all those breasts? When I was in the room where patients are readied for surgery, I noticed a large scheduling board with the patients' names, times for surgery, attending surgeons, and other pertinent information. As the day progressed and patients advanced into surgery or their surgery was delayed, the information was changed. The board reminded me of the menue board in fast food chains or cafeterias. I did not have to reach very far to imagine that instead of my name on that board I could be represented by that part of me to be removed by surgery. Instead of "modified radical mastectomy," breast and nodes might occupy that space. What happened to these body parts remained an unseen mystery to me, and further fed my ability to picture the bizarre. What if all of those breasts were served up in the hospital cafeteria, just as Sweeny Todd's customers were ground up for meat pies once they entered his shop to get their hair cut off. This macabre vision fit with the one I'd had of myself being carved up for dinner in the painting "Surgery."

The "Cafeteria" painting however, is purposely done in bright warm, even cheery colors, in that boring everydayness one finds in most institutional cafeteria food and decor. Visitors to the hospital are rarely feeling cheerful. So this brightness is a contradiction. If one looks closer one will see that this isn't the common cafeteria setting. Variations include the menue offerings, the flaming oven which may be burning up anything superfluous, recalling other ovens which have incinerated human flesh. The "breast under glass" reminds me of meals under lids served both to hospital patients and in cafeteria offerings. The "under glass" part always seemed to add a touch of elegance for me.

The feature I found most hilarious in all this is that when I went to visit the prosthesis display at the American Cancer Society about a year and a half after my surgery, when I was hoping to find a more "perfect" model than the uncomfortable one I had, I was presented with almost the same vision that had much earlier appeared to me in my twilight fantasy. There in a glassed-in display case were silicone "breast" of various sizes, shapes and colors!" I almost burst out laughing, but I was with two other recent mastectomies who I thought might not understand my reaction. The sight of all these "breasts" lying on their "backs" pointing skyward reminded me ironically too of the repetition of this shape I began to notice everywhere I went while I was working on the movie I had made in 1985 about creative and destructive forces. (Its genesis began in my observation that the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant appeared to me to be a gigantic sculpture of two breasts emerging from the earth. Monstrous in proportion and dangerous in power these disembodied mounds of concrete, thereafter to beknown as "the nuclear tits," seemed the antithesis of what breasts were really about.)

There's little difference between hospital gurneys and the cafeteria tables. Vacated gurneys can then serve those dining on what may have been recently removed from the previous occupants, fulfilling the adage "what goes around, comes around." And what would a hospital cafeteria be without its tiered pricing for staff, visitors and patients.

This painting, like most of the others, is collaged of a variety of materials, some of which have meaning only to me. However, a portion of the floor is constructed of pieces of patient processing papers, which in my HMO, accompany the patient wherever she or he goes, so I decided to carry them right into the painting.


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