The Breast and Its Images


Session Title:

  • The Art of Biomedical Imaging

Presentation Title:

  • The Breast and Its Images




  • Medical Imaging is an increasingly important part of personal and social lives. A tool of medical diagnosis, scanned images of our interiors produce new identities and anxieties. Anthropologists like Rapp and Dumit have documented the ways in which categories of person and senses of self are produced and contested through images of fetuses or brains. Rose, Rabinow and others have argued that identities are formed and understood through biological and biomedical discourses, producing biosocial identities. Similarly, medical imaging can suddenly create a social category for a person such as ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘2nd stage breast cancer survivor’.

    Breast cancer patients rarely see their MRIs or get a sense of the shape or physicality of the malignancy. The tumor remains an unseen, dark and invisible monster lurking within – even after it has been surgically removed. We believe that visualizing tumors can be an important aspect of dealing with the aftermath of the disease. Research with brain tumor patients suggests that visualization has positive psychological and even physiological effects. Bringing art to bear on biomedicine, we are interested in investigating the agency of objects and the power of objectification, especially within socially charged categories like the ‘the breast’ and ‘cancer’.

    With help from radiologists, we digitally imaged breast cancer tumors obtained from the MRI’s of patients and friends – that is, we imaged the last form the tumor assumed before being excised. Through a complicated process going from medical imaging to 3D software, we ‘printed’ the tumors on a rapid prototyping machine to produce concrete versions. Finally, we made molds and cast them to produce pendants which we returned to the patients. Externalized, the tumor can now be visualized, even held, by the breast cancer patient – as a fetish now in the world, it can be ‘active’, a new force with a positive effect. We are the first to have imaged and prototyped breast cancer tumors.

    In this panel, we will describe the process through which we achieved this and present narratives of the effects the process has had on us and on breast cancer survivors.