In 1991 the artist and model Matuschka was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. Following her surgery, which she discovered had not been necessary, Matuschka became an activist on breast cancer issues. Hoping to increase awareness of the prevalence of breast cancer and also to suggest a more positive self image for women who had had mastectomies, she continued producing artistic portraits of herself, many of them revealing the results of her mastectomy.

Her career took a very public turn with the appearance of her photographic self-portrait on the cover of the New York Times Magazine on August 15, 1993.(She appears in a tailored white dress cut away from her right shoulder and torso to give a full view of her mastectomy scar.)This photo (titled "Beauty out of Damage" and accompanied by Susan Ferraro’s article, "The Anguished Politics of Breast Cancer") and a dozen other photos and paintings were exhibited on the Web by the Pincushion Forum web site and later put into an archive. The archive also contains several texts that help orient viewers to the visual works.

Viewer-readers may be interested in numerous poems, stories, and longer works about breast cancer that have been annotated in this database. Especially recommended are: Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals; Betty Rollin’s First, You Cry, excerpt from; Joyce Wadler’s autobiography, My Breast; Marilyn Hacker’s poem sequence, Cancer Winter; Linda Pastan’s poem, Routine Mammogram; Henry Schneiderman’s poem sequence, Breast Cancer in the Family; and a story by Helen Yglesias, Semi-Private. Other titles may be found here by searching for "breast And cancer."


So I lost a breast and the world gained an activist, Matuschka pluckily sums up her new life. And her activism has been unusually effective. According to the president of the Canadian group Breast Cancer Action, Matuschka’s NY Times cover "did more for breast cancer than anyone else in the last twenty-five years." Much of the power of her images comes from the mixing of her artist’s and model’s aesthetic sense with the mastectomy’s raw image of disfigurement.

Paradoxes abound in her iconoclastic work. Without having been a fashion model, it is unlikely the "imperfect" Matuschka would have made it to the Times Magazine cover so that one woman reader could respond ecstatically: "Fantastic! A cover girl who looks like me!" Other women have been deeply resentful. ("Now everyone knows how I look!") Matuschka has taken a strong stand against reconstructive surgery and the use of prostheses--because, she says, as an artist she prefers the difficult truth to the social lie that denies the difficult reality of cancer and breast removal.

Breast cancer victims, their husbands, and their lovers (and viewers): we all are implicated in the complex of conventional messages about female beauty and sexuality. Heterosexual males may well find themselves disquieted by these images of a nude woman who is very attractive . . . except . . . . Matuschka’s work asks us all to finish the sentence, listen to how it sounds, and expand our categories.


Matuschka, born Joanne Matuschka.