“Oh! Let’s go in here.”
I quickly swerved my pace into the stark white open space of the Openhouse Gallery at 201 Mulberry Street as TDS, ALiCo and Krito followed, curious, behind me.
I had seen a flyer for The SCAR Project as I stepped off the bus one day after work. Taped humbly on a lamppost, the small white flyer displayed a pregnant woman with a large scar where her breast had once been. As a member of a family twice afflicted with breast cancer, the exhibition was something I definitely wanted to see but, with friends visiting that weekend, I didn’t think I would be able to.
Somehow, though, as my friends and I were traipsing through SoHo, Little Italy and parts of Chinatown, we wound up heading north on Mulberry Street, right past the gallery. I saw the photo of the same pregnant woman, this time in a larger than life portrait, and dragged my friends inside.
On the stark-white painted brick in the Openhouse Gallery were a series of these portraits. Portraits of breast cancer patients and survivors diagnosed with the disease at age 35 or under who had undergone disfiguring surgeries like double or single mastectomies to get rid of it.
Courageous women who allowed themselves to be photographed shirtless, scars fully displayed. They were beautiful beyond the disease, even in spite of it. And the photos gave the women a persona beyond the disease—each woman was distinctive, whether it be with a pair of glasses, a special piece of jewelry, tattoos, makeup. The photographs allowed the women to be women again, to transcend disease and no longer be a patient or a number.
I was especially struck by the photograph of Cary G., a beautiful, raven haired woman with dark lips, porcelain skin, and eyelashes for days. She reminded me of my grandmother who passed away from breast cancer in 2004, a woman who spat fire and wore red lipstick until she couldn’t anymore. I paused in front of Cary’s photograph for a long time, eventually quietly crying in the middle of the gallery.
The project, ongoing, is the work of photographer David Jay, a fashion photographer based in New York. Jay began the project after a dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 32.
Subjects of the SCAR project are between the ages of 18-35, a group of women with breast cancer who are often overlooked. It is for this reason that the mission of the SCAR Project is to “raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.”
The project is a challenging one to look at, especially if one or one’s family has experienced the effects of breast cancer. And it’s true, some people may not want to look. But that doesn’t mean breast cancer will stop affecting women early on. According to photographer Jay, “For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, identity and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it. Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them and the strength to move forward with pride.”