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Portraits of Pain 

Wednesday, Jan 4 2012
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“After having a section of my leg removed, I began researching medicine from the Middle Ages through the 18th century.” That remark alone in Arabella Proffer’s artist statement would be enough to get us to her exhibit. Nonetheless, we kept reading. We found that Proffer was an established artist when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that led to the surgery. Her research revealed the state of pre-modern medicine: pretty bad. Regardless of how “rich, important, or beautiful” you were, she says, if you were sick, you’d still get treatment that was “brutal or worthless.” So Proffer turned her fear and anger into the exhibit “Ephemeral Antidotes.” In it, she deals in brightly colored and realistically rendered oil-painted portraits — specifically ones that incorporate medical superstitions and practices. In Violets for Heart Veins, a purple-haired woman holds open an elaborate coat to reveal a hole in her chest, ringed by violets and showing her heart and blood vessels. It has the look of a religious icon. In Skin of the Fox Cures the Pox, a serpentine blue fox drapes itself over the shoulders of a woman and looks directly at the viewer. Proffer has penned a biography for each woman in her portraits, “highlighting both the fascinating and the horrifying aspects of old medicine.” We suspect it’s much like her own experience.
Sat., Jan. 7, 8 p.m., 2012

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Keith Bowers

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