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Keywords:

  • activism;
  • art;
  • breast cancer;
  • photography;
  • social movements;
  • social practices;
  • visual images;
  • visual sociology

Abstract

This article discusses the role of ‘artworks’ produced by women with breast cancer in the context of breast cancer activism. We argue that such works play a key role in making visible and collective the ideological issues surrounding this disease. They do this through their potential for anchoring social practices relating to its treatment and what might be done about it (Klawiter 2004, Swidler 2001). The article focuses upon the work of two women artists diagnosed with breast cancer – the British photographer Jo Spence, and Martha Hall, an American who made artist's books. We examine specific works from these collections, and the context of their production. In this way we show how and why artworks are important in establishing visual and discursive space related to social practices associated with disease regimes, and how they provide emancipatory potential for women living with breast cancer. We argue that artworks work through and on bodies to enable a redemptive and emancipatory potential. As mediators of representations of illness, they deserve attention from sociologists researching social movements, the sharing of illness experience and strategies for survival.