Cancer Chemo and Me – an exhibition
Our new exhibition opens on 14 June at St Christopher’s CARE. Artist Griselda Mussett tells us what inspired her very personal collection of work.
This summer, visitors to St Christopher’s CARE will be greeted by a powerful exhibition addressing a subject that touches us all: Cancer, Chemo and Me, by artist Griselda Mussett. In advance of the opening, Griselda shared her inspiration and her hopes for how people will respond to the collection of photographs, drawings and paintings.
Griselda was diagnosed with cancer in July 2021 and soon after underwent what she describes as a very gruelling course of chemotherapy. A friend gave her a pad of paper and she dug out some pastels.
“Then I just started drawing as I lay there in bed,” says Griselda.
“I wasn’t intending for it to be an account of my illness. Then when I finished that round of treatment I realised that the series of drawings I’d done represented a story, even though it wasn’t designed like that.”
The story the 33 pastel drawings represent is that of feeling drained and disconnected and then, gradually, as the toxins left her body, the arrival of a little eye or bird motif symbolises her recovery.
While not representative of all of them by any means, that sense of positivity is also evident in the final few of the 25 self-portrait photographs Griselda took too.
She adds: “If I’m honest, some of them are quite scary as they reflect my state of mind when I was feeling grim. They explore how I really felt being ill and having the chemo. And then they also capture the sense of healing as my hair grew back.”
As well as the pastel drawings and photographs, the exhibition features nine square panels of single colour. The central panel has 27 coats of orange paint. Griselda says the visible imperfections that start to appear are a metaphor for life.
Taken together as a body of work, she says it’s touched people more than anything else she’s ever done.
“It’s about something universal – knowledge of death – we all know about it, but no one talks about it.”
This will be the second time the works have been exhibited, after a short show in Griselda’s hometown, Faversham in Kent, which her friend and fellow artist Bob Lamoon persuaded her to put on.
“It’s quite exposing and intimate and in a way a bit confrontational, but to my amazement, people were really moved, they were flabbergasted and cried, and we sold a lot of prints,” adds Griselda. “I guess it was a measure of how much the pictures spoke to people.
“People don’t talk enough about cancer even though everyone knows someone who has it. It’s a big grey area for people that they’re frightened of, but they won’t speak about it. Anyone can relate to these pictures, they’re timeless and completely accessible and while they do contain some dark material they definitely end on a positive note.”
Griselda is currently receiving palliative care at Kent and Canterbury Hospital and is looking forward to the exhibition in St Christopher’s CARE and to sharing these personal pictures that reflect a universal experience with many visitors.
“I hope they understand it’s an exercise about the process of being told you’re very ill and about treatment that may or not be successful. Yes, it’s scary but it doesn’t have to be devastating. You don’t have to stay enslaved to the bleak feelings. In fact, my daily response is one of deep gratitude to the doctors and nurses, my family and friends.”
The exhibition opens in St Christopher’s CARE on Wednesday 14 June 2023 3.30pm – 5pm. Prints of the works will also be available to buy for £25, of which £10 will be donated to the hospice. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend.
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