These arresting and beautiful drawings of a woman's body through which the interior skeleton is visible represent the art and body of Laura Ferguson, a visual artist who has severe scoliosis. At age 13 Ferguson underwent spinal fusion surgery, followed by one year spent wearing a plaster cast. Years later she began to experience pain and disability due to her condition. This was the impetus to try to understand her body, to visualize its skeleton, to undertake "an artistic inquiry" into the medical condition of scoliosis.

She learned anatomy and the physiology of motion, learned to read her own x-rays and was helped to visualize her skeleton by orthopedists and radiologists, working most recently with radiologists at New York University School of Medicine who provided a 3D spiral CT scan. In Ferguson's words, the latter is "an exciting new technology that allows me to view my skeleton from any angle, rotating and tilting it to match whatever movement or pose I'm interested in drawing." (Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Spring 2004, vol. 47, no. 2, p. 166)

Ferguson originated her own technique of "floating colors" to produce the layered background (on paper) of these drawings. On top of the complex colored background that constitutes the body's flesh in her work, she uses drawing materials to represent the interior skeleton, allowing the viewer to see both the body and its skeletal interior--but the interior has been exteriorized. Ferguson depicts a body in motion--bending, kneeling, reclining, stretching, twisting--as well as a sensual body--nude, with breasts and long hair; embracing, being embraced. Some of the depictions do not have a skeletal interior at all while some are almost straight anatomical drawings of skeleton parts.


Ferguson's work is clearly "art therapy" of the self--as she studied and drew her body, learning it from multiple perspectives, she felt empowered, "as if I were regaining a sense of ownership of my own body that had somehow been lost when my experience was 'medicalized' " (PBM, p.167). She says, in fact, that she "came to view pain, like pleasure, as simply a state of body, an intensity of sensation that compels awareness . . . " (PBM, p. 168)

But her art with its unusual perspective also demonstrates to viewers the body's beauty, even the beauty of bodies that have been labeled "abnormal." Ferguson seeks to see "deformity as differentness, and differentness as individuality. . . . " Her striking figures, in motion or in other positions of daily life, emphasize how natural and human is the body and encourages greater acceptance and appreciation of the variety and uniqueness of individual bodies.

A special section of the journal, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (Spring 2004, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 159-175), includes five black-and-white images of the work and was devoted to a discussion of "The Visible Skeleton Series."

The discussants, in addition to Ferguson, are a professor of science and technology studies, an orthopedic surgeon, a social worker who herself was born with cleft palate, and a forensic pathologist. The varying perspectives of these professionals provides for interesting reading, and shows that Ferguson's art can stimulate new ways of thinking about the body and disability, especially among medical professionals.


Ferguson's project is on view at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. through August, 2005; a book is said to be in process.