Latin America's new revolution - theBraProject Costa Rica
Lynne Atkinson photo
Clockwise from top, I arrived at the gallery in time to watch the installation. Our Costa Rican Bra Project organizers hung their works on clotheslines with pegs but they took the installation to a different level. In the gallery la zona de entrenarte, lines were artistically spread between bamboo poles painted pink with stories printed on vinyl attached to the wall beneath. Sculptural works were mounted in acrylic boxes or on stands and still others were strung across the vast window wall greeting guests entering the gallery.
Lynne Atkinson photo
Well-known textile artist Alejandra Gutierrez and the installers make final adjustments on “SUPERPOWERBRA”. This an enormous work uses silicon breast implants to make a statement about ways we poison women's bodies.
Recovery room remodelling
The condition of the recovery rooms in the breast cancer ward was shocking. It was re-affirming that money raised from the Bra Project in Costa Rica will remodel these ancient rooms. Here Lynne, breast cancer surgeon Dr.. Yoleny Calvo, and Alejandra celebrate the anticipated remodeling of the ward after touring existing rooms.
PARRY SOUND - When the West Parry Sound Health Centre Foundation was invited to install the BraProject at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in 2011, we cheered believing it a triumphant conclusion to our engaging public art project. But while it was triumphant, it wasn’t the conclusion.
When we signed a contract with Second Story Press to publish a book on our art-bras, we applauded again believing we now had an amazing finale to our fundraising! Our donors were buying our community a brand new $650,000 digital mammography machine and the Foundation’s campaign was to be immortalized in a book. If the book took off there would be royalties. A true triumph for a small hospital Foundation in Northern Ontario!
Looking back, we simply had no hint of what was to come.
As the book was going to press a new art-bra was uploaded to the website, (www.theBraProject.com) from an artist in Costa Rica. Her work was compelling and I quickly asked if she would participate in our publication. That was October 2011. For two months the concept of theBraProject gelled in her mind. In January 2012 our Costa Rican artist emailed asking our permission to bring theBraProject to Costa Rica, a country where breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women. The answer was a resounding, “Yes!”
Working with three other artists in San Jose, Alejandra Gutierrez, a well-known textile artist, sent a call through the media for art-bra submissions, secured a major grocery sponsor, Auto Mercado and mounted two extraordinary installations: one in a gallery and the other in the grocery aisles of Auto Mercado. The organizers also hosted a symposium on the project and were willing to cover my expenses if I would participate. So, using my Air Miles, and support from the grocery sponsor in Costa Rica, I had the privilege of attending one of the most memorable experiences of my life, theBraProject Costa Rica.
The opening on October 3, was a glittery affair. With a price tag of $300 per couple the 200 folks in attendance raised substantial money to refurbish a breast cancer ward in a San Jose hospital built in 1845. This small country has 950 newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer each year.
According to data from Costa Rica’s Social Security Institute, in the past 15 years, the incidence of breast cancer among Costa Ricans has increased by 67 per cent while the death rate has increased by 22 per cent. Shocking statistics in a country with a population of 4.7 million citizens.
I was awestruck to witness our project spreading its tentacles to people in desperate need of help thousands of miles away. On a very basic level, the room in the near two-century-old hospital that will benefit from money raised in the Bra Project will improve the lives of patients. Beds, reminiscent of those in filmstrips from WWI will be replaced with clean, digitally adjustable and comfortable beds. Plumbing, lighting, flooring will all be remodeled to enhance the recovery of women after surgery. Every person in Parry Sound who participated in our Support the Girls Campaign can claim a part of this victory for women in the eight-bed breast cancer surgical recovery ward of that ancient public hospital.
The project has also taken on a new life, evolving in the Costa Rican world where a machismo culture dominates. (See Costa Rican submissions at www.theBraProject.com) While clearly a breast cancer project, some of the artistas used their art-bra submissions to tell of a world of inequality and violence. Their personal stories are evolving the project into a platform for human rights.
Equally as important participants in theBraProject Costa Rica transformed breast cancer advocacy to meaningful civic participation. Prior to the bra project the local focus was on ‘pink’ and ‘ribbons’ not education or taking preventative action.
Our Costa Rican organizers have been working together for years. While artists themselves, they also come from very political backgrounds.
Revolutions in the 70s and 80s in Latin America forced one to escape her home country while another survived an assassination attempt. It is little wonder that they work today to empower people. They see theBraProject Costa Rica as building participation in art and human understanding.
One vivid example of this is a submission from María Venegas a woman at La Casa De Los Ninos. La Casa is a school responsible for children with major dietary, academic and psychological needs in Tirrases, a very poor community on the outskirts of San Jose. While children are in class their mothers and grandmothers participate in a textile project started by Alejandra. Every week Alejandra and her mother (a long retired teacher) go to the project and teach local woman to crochet and knit. Some of the women are now selling their wares and others are working in their homes creating extraordinary fashions that fetch a descent price.
The Tirasses bra-artista said having her art-bra chosen for the exhibit (and yes, both she and the other bra-artist chosen from Tirasses were guests to the gala) gave her a new sense of affirmation that literally altered her sense of self. No longer was she an unhappy victim in an ugly poor world. She became the embodiment of the Costa Rican saying Pura Vida which loosely translates to “this is living.”
I was continually asked how theBraProject started. I told the story over and over and at the symposium it got a round of applause – needing to raise $650,000; the first two art-bras Mink-licious and Go Girls Go; Susan Tait and the Georgian Bay Women’s Network; our Health Centre CEO who embraced hanging the works on clotheslines in the hospital; and, the audacious goal of creating something that might be as compelling locally as Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party was international. But the simple truth is, it’s one of those moments when you trust your gut and run with a snap decision. There is an interesting book, Blink, written in 2005 by Malcolm Gladwell (author of the Tipping Point). In essence it draws attention to the power of thinking, without thinking. Blink is how theBraProject began. But equally as important as the ‘blink’ that birthed it, was the Parry Sound community that embraced it.
There is talk of theBraProject spreading to other countries. A retired Panamanian businessman is attempting to bring it to his country. Connections have been made in Argentina and Hawaii. Our publisher is currently attending a large book fair in Germany pitching translations on our book. Many of the art-bras in our book are installed in the South Hampton Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre helping their hospital raise money for a digital mammography machine. Who knows what’s next? The only thing I believe is that we are no closer to the finale then we were when we installed theBraProject at the CNE. We have created a project where stories and art are significant, bringing meaningful personal participation to the cause of breast cancer and that just might create a new revolution around the world.
Lynne Atkinson is the Executive Director of the West Parry Sound Health Centre Foundation and the Bra-Artista who created Go Girls Go!