‘Breasts as you’ve never seen them before’ – exhibition of prosthetics to challenge our assumptions

An exhibition starting next week at the University of Plymouth is to showcase alternative prosthesis designs for women who have undergone surgery for breast cancer.

The show Becoming will display designs by masters research student Rosie Brave, and takes place from Friday 15 – Friday 29 March in the University’s Roland Levinsky Building.

Studying Digital Art and Technology, Rosie has been working with women post-surgery to explore how their experience of owning and wearing a prosthesis could be improved, and she has blended 3D printing with traditional art and craft skills to create a range of ‘reimagined’ prosthetic breasts.

The exhibition showcases women’s stories, examples of the prosthetics, current products and insights from the design process.

Rosie said: 

“Commercial silicone prostheses, the kind that are provided on the NHS, aim to imitate skin tone and texture but many women find them hot, heavy and sweaty to wear. I was inspired to do this by my friend’s account of how her mother rejected her beige prosthesis – she asked, ‘why can’t it be pink leopardprint?’ 

“I was really interested in the potential for the prosthesis to become something celebratory and uplifting instead of a reminder of a missing body part. High-level realism is only available to people with thousands of pounds to spend so if, instead, a prosthesis could be a person’s favourite colour, or encompass a personal message or design, I feel it could play a positive role in a woman’s day that extends beyond restoring shape under clothing and has a psychological benefit too.”

To help design the new prosthetics, Rosie ran workshops and discussion groups with 19 women from around the UK, mostly in South West England, all of whom had had a mastectomy (breast removal surgery) after breast cancer. 

Having trained with colour psychology specialists Karen Haller and Angela Wright, Rosie was keen to use colour and design to explore the potential to positively impact a woman’s relationship with her prosthesis and her emotional wellbeing.

Rosie added: 

“Perhaps because they tend not be seen in public and perhaps because we ascribe such strong social and cultural meanings to the breast, no one has thought to expand the choices available for external prosthetic breasts. The models in this exhibition really are breasts as you’ve never seen them before, and they represent the designs and desires of the women I’ve met. Each design is highly personal and about as far away from a realistic breast as you can get.” 

The exhibition Becoming runs on weekdays from Friday 15 – Friday 29 March 2019, 7am–5pm in the Second Floor Gallery of the Roland Levinsky Building. 

A guided tour of the exhibition with Rosie Brave is available 18–21 March, by request. Contact rosie.brave@postgrad.plymouth.ac.uk to book a tour, or for more information.

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