Tag Archives: arts based inquiry

Body Mapping

“Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes, never unfold too much, or tell the whole story.” This quote from Written on the body by Jeanette Winterson (2001) eloquently resonates with my interest in exploring the body landscape.

I facilitated a workshop at the Australian and New Zealand Art Therapy (ANZATA) national conference in November. In this workshop I described my method of immersing myself in the ‘writing on my body’ through painting my body and making body prints as a means of making meaning of my diagnosis of breast cancer and consequent surgery. The workshop  provided an overview of my own process and the opportunity to participate in an experiential activity of accessing our own stories through the marks left on our bodies.

I believe our body is a rich tapestry of our lived experience that we can read and use as an access point into an inquiry into our own life. The landscape of our bodies contain the features, of our life journey – scars, wrinkles, shape, etc.   In this workshop the participants were firstly invited to inquire into the stories written on their  hands through the marks on their hands – lines, wrinkles or scars. We often don’t spend time just looking at our hands. To really see them. Iasked people to sit and just meditate on their hands. Really look at them, turn them over, look at them as if they are totally new to you, look at the colour, the texture, the lines. Are their scars? What stories are contained in the lines and marks on your hand? Share one story of an experience that you found written on your hand.

I then invited the particpants to sit with their body – spend some time just looking at your body and noticing the different marks that are written on your body – look again at your hands, your arms and legs and feet, feel it, is it smooth/rough/warm/cold etc. Again notice the textures, marks etc. Then lie down and close your eyes. Scan over your body from the top of head to toes as if you are a camera roaming over your body. What do you see/notice what marks, shapes, scars etc. What do you feel as you move over and through your body. Try and really tune into the physical shape of your body, the texture, topography. Your camera can move over your back what do you see as you move down along the back of your head over your back, your legs.

Is there a mark on your body that is drawing your attention that you are curious to explore more? Are their feelings attached to different parts of your body? Can you start to detect stories that are written on your body.

The particpants were then invited to work with a partner and create an outline of their body shape to work on. they then created a body map by filling in the outline of their body with whatever came to them from the meditation on their body. They were then encouraged to work with another person to inquire into the narratives that were contained in their body.

The images below are photos of some of the particpants body maps who gave me permission to use their images.

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I had also come across a Chilean woman who was working with body mapping; she did a poster presentation at the International Conference on for the study of sexuality, culture and society in Madrid in July last year. I’ve put some info I got from her below.

Body Mapping Jimena Silva Segovia Dr. of anthropologyjsilva@ucn.cl
Universidad Catolica de Norte in Antofagusta Chile
Thesis “power relationships between Chilean women from two generations: forming and breaking alliances, dissidence and oppostition between mothers and daughters Beca Conicyt 2006 – 2009

Methodology of Body Mapping
1. Biographical writings – help participants to create their life trajectories – autobiographies and individual’s self interpretations
2. Narrating the written (De Villers, 1999 & Ferrareti, 1981) – horizontal, vertical, winding or circular openings into lived experience.
3. Body mapping – using collage, writing painting etc on outline of body shape.
4. Emerging body expressions – conglomerate of different expressions leading into intersubjective work where participants generate new opportunities for rebuilding themselves and recreate their body project again



Red not Pink!

Once I became aware of the pink lady it seemed to assault me from all directions. I made this movie

Normative Bodies

This is a movie I presented at the International Conference of the International Association for the study of sexuality, culture and society in Madrid in July 2011.

Japan Trip

I had a planned trip to Japan and decide to go ahead with this before my surgery. Being in another country allows me to be truly present to every moment of my experience. Although I am immersed in my experience of Japan, my nipple is constantly at the outer edge of my awareness.   I see nipples everywhere! I take photos of nipples in the forest, in the city, in buildings, in the street, in the airplane and in temples.


Incredibly I seem to come across ‘damaged or missing left nipples’ everywhere!

Breast Prints

I decide to do a series of images of my left breast. I smother it with paint and make imprints on the paper. I want to portray a sense of decay and death but it just looks beautiful. Like a joyful dance of breasts.  Full of colour. Each breast imprint is so beautiful with layers of colour. They remind me of a gang of parrots and lorikeets with their bright colours and alert eyes, formed by my nipple. It seems a great way to immortalize my nipple to have it captured in such a joyful, colourful manner.

The DCIS Booklet

I read the booklet on DCIS and am blown away by the presentation of the data on treatment outcomes, in which 🙂  symbol is used to represent survival and
😦 symbol to represent death. I think, well I guess you would be a bit sad if you die!

A week after my surgery I visit my surgeon to get my pathology results. I’m confident everything will be okay. My surgeon blasts through my confident exterior when she says I’ll need more surgery. I don’t have clear margins. She’ll need to take a bit more. She draws me another diagram illustrating how she’ll just need to take a slightly larger incision.

She operates two weeks later. It is frustrating knowing that my healing breast will be again be cut into. I know the nurses and the drill. Although I hate having an anaesthetic it all goes well and I’m back home that night tucking into a delicious dinner.

I attend my follow-up appointment curious to see whether I will need to have radiotherapy. My daughter insists on coming with me even though I told her I don’t need her as it will be just be a standard follow up. The nurse checks my wound and says its healing well. I still haven’t seen my scar as I have had dressings on it all the time. I’m curious to see how I will look. I guess I can get a false nipple to wear; I’d seen an episode of “Sex in the City” in which one of the characters had worn one to attract men.

We wait in the room for the surgeon, eventually she walks in her expression as inscrutable as ever. She sits down and says, “it is totally unexpected but we still didn’t get clear margins. We will need to take the whole breast off to ensure you are clear. It has been growing so stealthily without being picked up by any of our tests, we would never know what was happening.” You will have to have a mastectomy. I was in complete shock! Here I have been worrying so much about how I would be without a nipple and now I am going to have my breast cut off! Suddenly the aesthetics seem so less important than living or dying.

The day before my operation I have another appointment with my surgeon. The nurse shows me different prosthesis I could use and gives me a free Berlie mastectomy bra.  It finally hits me there in her office. By this time tomorrow I will no longer have my left breast. My surgeon asked me what sort of mastectomy I want. Whether a clean cut to the chest wall or one that entailed a smaller incision and retained some skin so that I could have a reconstruction later. I don’t know! Part of me would like to have a clean excision to my chest wall and proudly bear my scar. But another part of me would like to keep the option of having a breast reconstruction later. She then asks me whether I want to have the lymph nodes that the breast drains into removed. I DON”T KNOW! This is all too much.

For the first time she doesn’t sound so confident that the pathology will be clear after my breast is removed. I guess her confidence is dented as well. The prospect of me having invasive cancer now seems like an option. For the first time I am scared! I don’t want to die! Not yet! When is a right time to die? My previous concerns about losing a nipple seem less significant and my concerns about having slightly sagging breasts now appear truly trivial.  I walk out of the clinic with my nice pink Berlie gift bag. I feel others compassionate glances as they know this means I’m having a mastectomy.