Amid Boston Overdose Crisis, a Pair of Harvard Students Are Bringing Narcan to the Red Line
At First Cambridge City Council Election Forum, Candidates Clash Over Building Emissions
Harvard’s Updated Sustainability Plan Garners Optimistic Responses from Student Climate Activists
‘Sunroof’ Singer Nicky Youre Lights Up Harvard Yard at Crimson Jam
‘The Architect of the Whole Plan’: Harvard Law Graduate Ken Chesebro’s Path to Jan. 6
The newest exhibit in The Neil L. & Angelica Zander Rudenstine Gallery at The Hutchins Center is a powerful and impressive curated collection of art dedicated to the memory of Lucy, Betsey, and Anarcha, three Black women who were enslaved and medically tortured by Dr. James Marion Sims, a man regarded as the father of gynecology. The exhibit’s array of mediums featuring sculptures, paintings, videos, and photographs, outlines a bittersweet memorial which connects past to present.
This project, which was curated by Dell Marie Hamilton, officially opened on March 30 and features 24 works created by several artists. It is co-sponsored by the Resilient Sisterhood Project, a non-profit organization that promotes healthcare advocacy concerning women of African descent impacted by diseases of the reproductive system.
An impressive amount of historical background and research accompanies the exhibit, detailing the ways the art pieces intersect with history while uncovering the dark truths behind anthropology, sociology, and our overall medical system.
Six of the pieces were created by Jules Arthur, who wanted to capture the three women through mixed media paintings. The first piece in the exhibit, “Mothers of Gynecology” (2019) features the three women in a textured frame. Below their portrait Sims includes speculums Sims used in his experiments and an insert of Robert Thom’s painting “J. Marion Sims: Gynecologic Surgeon,” from “The History of Medicine.” Arthur’s attention to detail is apparent in his depiction of each woman, as he gives each of them distinct features, and grave expressions that force the spectator to confront them and the subject matter at hand.
“He tries to give them some dignity, by sort of creating this portraiture and sort of centering them in this circular shape,” Hamilton said. “It’s a reminder of sort of a women’s locket.”
This dignity is also visible in paintings like “A Bond of Sisterhood” (2019), where the three women can be seen at night comforting and caring for each other despite the horrors they’ve faced.
“Many of the women, like in particular Anarcha, she experienced at least 30 different surgeries,” Hamilton said. “So, this is a period of time where anesthesia is just starting to be used, but we know for sure he did not use it on these enslaved women and obviously they did not have agency in terms of what they could or could not consent to.”
Arthur also visually illuminates the women with a single light, showing the intimacy and strength they have amongst each other, directly juxtaposing this scene with Sims in the doorway, covered in darkness. Arthur makes Sims and his threatening composure powerless to the women’s depiction of sisterhood and resilience.
This depiction can be seen in how he styles the women in colors that ground the piece and in lace that makes the image come alive, not only breaking the barrier between 2D and 3D, but also between art and reality.
Many 3D pieces are displayed as a part of the exhibit and help bring interactive elements to the gallery. “Victory Beyond Sims” (2022) by Vinnie Bagwell, is an impressive sculpture, which is planned to take the place where J. Marion Sims’s statue once stood in New York’s Central Park, until it was removed in 2017. This new statue, which portrays a Black woman with angel-like wings, features braille, engravings of slave ships, and the names Betsey, Lucy, and Anarcha. The statue holds an eternal flame in one hand and a caduceus, the official insignia of the United States Medical Corps.
Other interactive elements include images from plays and experimental performances. One surprising piece is a video, “Purge” (2017), created by King Cobra (documented as Doreen Lynette Garner), where Black women surround a cast of J. Marion Sims’s statue and perform surgery on it.
This collection of art leaves viewers in absolute awe. Some pieces may cause one to shed a tear and evoke outrage at the cruelty these women faced such as Jules Arthur’s “Field of Exploitation” (2023), which depicts Black babies, as they float in the air surrounding several enslaved women. In particular, “Field of Exploitation” acknowledges the many miscarriages and birth complications Black mothers experience as a result of malnutrition and harsh conditions.
Other pieces like Jules Arthur’s “Legacies of Resilience” (2023) and “Sisterly Resistance” (2019) will empower audiences and evoke pride. These two pieces depict Betsey, Anarcha, and Lucy, as they peer down at other women who advocated for their needs by tearing down J. Marion Sims’s statue or praising the multiple Black women doctors and medical professionals who rose to success in an industry that once harmed them.
Overall, this exhibit holds up the legacies of the many Black women who were experimented on.
“Sims is not exceptional, that he is one of many doctors at this period of time,” Hamilton said. “They are experimenting on lots of Black folks.”
Hamilton also expressed how important this history is as it is “baked into modern contemporary healthcare practice.”
She also shared that, “To this day Black women die at disproportionately higher rates post birth after delivering their children.”
“Black folks have reason to be suspicious of clinicians and hospitals,” Hamilton finished.
Ultimately, this impressive collection is made by artists who are passionate and dedicated to this mission, making this exhibit a must-see.
— Staff writer Makayla I. Gathers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.