Work of the Week – Cancer by Pinky/MM Bass

Monday, March 21, 2016

by Parker Louise Bobbitt


This week’s Work of the Week is Cancer (from Contemplating My Internal Organs) by contemporary artist Pinky/MM Bass.

At times, we may feel far too familiar with the subjects of pain, illness and loss. Our journey on Earth is not always easy and we are often inclined to seek out a personal approach to healing.

Pinky’s Cancer (from Contemplating My Internal Organs) is a compelling portrait that holds an emotional depth and explores the fragility of the human body. A unique approach to photography is seen in this work. Enveloped by intricate embroidery thread, a figure appears as simultaneously vulnerable and distant to the viewer. Images of a skeleton and a crab are represented through brightly colored embroidery, providing a deeper insight into the meaning behind this work. The crab is the zodiac symbol for the astrological sign of Cancer and the skeleton demonstrates the artist’s exploration of the human body. Pinky uses pinhole cameras for their “glorious array of mistakes” that enhance the surreal, dreamy quality of Cancer

It is apparent that this work explores themes of illness and recovery as well as elements of that journey. “My work… has always aimed at revealing edges of the mystery of life, aging and death, particularly in relation to the human body,“ says Pinky in her artist statement.

Pinky is an American photographer and self-described feminist and spiritualist currently living in Fairhope, Alabama. In 1988, at the age of 52, she earned her Master of Fine Arts in Photography at Georgia State University. Through her use of alternative methods, Pinky demonstrates an innovative approach to this art form. In 1989, she made the first of her giant pinhole cameras from a pop-up camper naming it “Pinky’s Portable Pop-up Pinhole Camera and Darkroom.” While most widely known for her pinhole and Polaroid photography, Pinky works across media and has recently begun working in music, creating tunes with perforated photographic images.

Pinky states that she created Cancer (from Contemplating My Internal Organs) shortly after her sister was diagnosed with cancer, revealing an intensely personal aspect of this work. During her grieving period, Pinky turned to embroidering her photographs as a means of therapy and understanding what was happening inside her sister’s body. In a time of pain, this unexpected approach to her own photography brought comfort. 

The process of art-making can be a powerful source of healing in the midst of tragedy. Throughout history, artists have turned to art for its therapeutic qualities in an attempt to heal themselves, others, their community and the world.

Artwork abovePinky/MM Bass, Cancer (from Contemplating My Internal Organs), 2002, Photograph, Black and White Silver Gelatin Print With Embroidery Thread, 9.50 x 5.75 inches. Museum purchase. Permanent Collection. 2004.09.97.