A Celebration of Healing: Sal Brownfield, Artist
— by Devreaux Baker, Poet
Imagine you are in a waiting room somewhere unknown A man in dull white holding a file with your name motions for you to follow him down a hallway and into a cave with a monitor in one corner
Imagine he tells you to undress and hands you a cotton gown, open down the front with ties you do not bother to tie.
Imagine he tells you to lie down, uncover a breast or both so he can read your body with ultra-sound and then begins to whistle some song you think you should know
in front of the table where you are laid out, perfect in your willingness to offer up your body to some god grown too dim to possess features.
Imagine he points to the screen
Imagine you fill your chest with a note that reverberates until your breast blooms with color, orange and red, that washes in waves responding to the song you are humming,
every bit of flesh this rose red, except where the dark mass sits, wrapped in her own sleepy spell, so embedded in your body she can no longer hear your song.
Imagine you love this dark shape even though it does not respond to the melody
knowing, it is the whole unloved part of you pushed aside, forgotten and alone, now found at last.
Imagine you place your hand across that part of your breast close your eyes, love this part anyway, love every part of your flesh no matter. Imagine.
Recently Atlanta artist, Sal Brownfield, exhibited works as part of an exploration by Emory University for Ethics on on Art as a Language of Healing.
The following article, reprinted from an Emory University blog on the event, captures Brownfield's talk and his exhibition:
Artist Sal Brownfield Discusses His Exhibition, Celebration of Healing:
Lives Touched by Breast Cancer
Sal Brownfield believes that art is a language of healing. On April 11th at the Center for Ethics, Brownfield presented an artist talk about his series of paintings titled Celebration of Healing: Lives Touched by Breast Cancer. The event was part of the Ethics & theArts Initiative and the paintings will be on exhibit in the Center for Ethics Art Gallery through the end of the semester.
While many works of art are born from the artist's imagination, this series was born from Brownfield's deep commitment to community engagement. He described that his long time desire to do a series of paintings on breast cancer was sparked by photo essays about breast cancer that gave him conflicted feelings. He felt the photo essays portrayed a “militaristic approach” to dealing with illness that was out of touch with reality. Creating these works, for Brownfield, was to show that such a tough and stoic approach didn’t characterize the people he knew who had breast cancer.
Brownfield found that breast cancer touches everyone. Searching for models wasn't difficult because of the network of people who knew about and supported the project. During the talk, Brownfield defined his work by telling stories. Each subject had stories of triumph and struggle that wove their way into the creative process. For example, Brownfield didn't instruct the subjects on how to pose or what to wear; instead he captured the subject in positions that were true to their everyday existence. The thing that is so important, Brownfield said, is that the subjects are not so "extraordinary that they're not like you and me." They are not militarized.
Brownfield built close relationships with the subjects of the paintings and was deeply moved by the fact that each person faced cancer and found within themselves a strength that they didn't know they had before.
Brownfield’s creative process progressed in the hours and days spent interpreting the stories of each subject with his fingers, through the paint, and onto the canvas. He described that all along he had the feeling of freedom in the sense that he felt no ownership of the paintings. For these works, the artist became an agent existing to express the energy of healing through art.