The private and public nature of disease: art as a transformative medium - Melinda Le Guay

20 May 2008
J Lynn Fraser, BA(d) MES

Left: Melinda Le Guay,

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In Western society, with its emphasis on physical perfection, those who are ill or have "wounded" bodies become "the Other" - separated from society both physically, in institutions, and socially. This may well be more for society's comfort than the individual's given that, for the public, disease and intensive medical procedures are connected with taboo subjects, such as pain, blood, fragility and mortality.

The public exploitation of private matters for entertainment - the "Oprahization" (as it has been termed) of private lives in contemporary North American society - has resulted in private issues, such as divorce, sexuality and disease, moving, seemingly enmasse, to the public domain. However, with the Oprahization of disease and medical procedures, the focus, and the fascination, tends to be on the medical issue, rather than the individual. Thus the person has remained "the Other" - unknown and ostracized.

Now, however, the extreme swing of the media-hyped sensationalist pendulum is being brought to a moderate position through the work of some visual artists, who are asking their viewers to contemplate why society creates "the Other," and are placing the responsibility for the taboo and stigma not on the so-called "damaged" individual, but on society's fears. This is a new view of disease and illness in the visual arts...
...Australian artist Melinda Le Guay also deals with self-knowledge by making public her own "personal feelings about exposure and judgment" ( Her depictions of bloody wounds and scars, like the works of Kinsella, are boxed and framed and presented as a series of displays. Le Guay explores the relationship between skin and the social stresses women experience. Body image disorders, Le Guay notes, sometimes involve "punitive rituals and physical [self] harm." The wounds she depicts remind the viewer that we are more than our surfaces.