Women: a Cartography exhibition

Fallopian Tube miscroscopy with H&E stain

Women: a Cartography is a mixed media exhibition of creative work inspired by the cellular pathology specimens from the hysterectomy and double mastectomy of the artists Rachel Cochrane and Maggie Hickman Smith.

As part of its development, Rachel and Maggie worked closely with pathology centres at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), Gateshead and University Hospital of North Tees (UHNT), Stockton.  There, they spent time in the laboratories, observing the process and looking at the images of their specimens under the microscope; it was these visits which fired their creative imagination.  The creative process continued as they prepared their own individual responses at Maggie’s studio in Darlington.

Rachel preparing her exhibits

Maggie in her studioThis unique collaboration brought together art and science and revealed essential components of disease not ordinarily seen or acknowledged. It was further inspired by the recent national tour to Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens of the work of Leonardo da Vinci. Polymath da Vinci died in 1519 and his many talents included drawing, anatomy, architecture and map making (cartography).

The exhibition was influenced by the latest digital imaging of microscopic cellular pathology and highlighted the development in our understanding of the human body that has occurred since da Vinci’s ground-breaking anatomical drawings.

Women: a Cartography also reflected the artists’ personal experiences as women as they mapped both their physical and emotional journeys of serious illness against a background of life events such as their children leaving home. Rachel and Maggie made creative responses to their pathological images, each in their own individual style.  They explored a variety of media and used a range of techniques and materials old and new.   For Maggie these included drawings inspired by da Vinci, print and stitch and collage. For Rachel, assemblage, text, verse, digital photography and film. As a writer, Rachel also explored the jargon and language used in the pathological reports of her specimens and medical notes.

Rachel’s exhibits (photos by Sophie Teasdale)

Rachel and Maggie’s brought their creative work together in the collaborative exhibition Women: a Cartography which ran at Arts Centre Washington from 27 September to 26 October 2020.  In addition to giving a unique insight into the work of clinical pathology and the role it plays in our wellbeing, the work also opened up conversations around women’s health and aimed to break the taboo around the menopause.

The exhibition opened with a preview evening attended by many pathology and hospital staff.

Exhibition preview evening (photos by Sophie Teasdale)

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