From MRI to Bronze Sculpture
TUMORS BECOME ART in sculptures created by a husband-and-wife team. When Leonor Caraballo was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was told she had an “aggressive but small” tumor. Post-removal, Caraballo couldn’t shake the desire to know the size and shape of the object that had threatened her life. She and her husband, Abou Farman, developed a process to replicate tumors with manipulated MRIs and a 3-D printer. Their art inspired Caraballo’s surgeon, Alexander Swistel at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College, to rethink breast cancer staging, which considers a tumor’s width at its widest point, not its volume. Swistel is starting clinical trials to see if three-dimensional, volumetric measurements of tumors would affect oncologists’ chemotherapy recommendations.
With the support of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and New York Foundation for the Arts, combined with a residency at art and technology center Eyebeam and help from doctors at Weill Cornell Medical Center and NYU Langone Medical Center, the husband-and-wife team, who call themselves caraballo-farman, through a process of trial and error created blueprints drawn from MRIs from patients and friends. Here is a breast cancer tumor lifted from an MRI and imported into 3-D software.
The team then produces computer-generated 3-D wire-mesh images of tumors.
Caraballo-farman uses the tumor blueprints to make 3-D prints in plastic and create molds for large-scale bronze sculptures and smaller renditions for pendants and worry beads. While the sculptures offer the gallery experience of seeing tumors as art, choosing to render the tumors as wearable objects, says Caraballo, originated as a way of “carrying cancer with us as a form of externalization.”
Rather than representing clichéd golf-ball–sized or –shaped tumors, the MRI renderings depict tumors as more organic—littered with tentacles, like a growing spray of disease. Says Farman: “What’s interesting is that each one is unique; like a fingerprint, each person’s is unique.” And rather than tiptoeing around cancer, according to Farman, the tumor art “was also a way of not running away from it.”
Through their jewelry line, Object Breast Cancer, the team sells charms, pendants, paperweights and worry beads in the shape of cancerous tumors. A piece can be worn as a reminder, a badge of survival, an amulet to ward off evil or even become part of a ritual—something to toss into a river or bury.