Art that faces off with illness

“Reconstruction II.”

Breast cancer strikes fear into the heart of women more than almost any other affliction. It’s true we now know that men can get breast cancer, and other cancers can be as deadly or worse, but the breast is the most outwardly prominent symbol of womanhood — an attack on the breast can feel like an attack on the essence of being a female. Which is why breast-cancer awareness efforts have gained such steam in the 21st century. Next week, for instance, the Freedom Tower will be bathed in pink light, in order to commemorate the start of breast-cancer awareness month, October.

Then, on Oct. 1, artist, activist and professor Sonia Baez-Hernandez will open a very personal, very powerful exhibit exploring the concepts and depictions of the female form, gender and racial inequities — and her own battle with breast cancer and illness and the medical world. The MFA grad from the Art Institute of Chicago who now teaches at Broward College is unflinching in her gaze. There are images of breasts — or representations of them — being manipulated and gouged with medical equipment, nipples being reformed, and more abstract images of the process of body reconstruction. And there are many images of that impossible female form, Barbie, undergoing various medical treatments.

"Barbie comes back to life?"

“Barbie comes back to life?”

On a broader level, Baez-Hernandez wants to artistically address what she feels is the fundamental human rights issue involved in American healthcare — who gets it, who gets good treatment, who falls through the cracks? Often, she posits, it’s minorities that fall off the healthcare cliff. “Embodiment and the Medical Gaze” will be a timely opening on that note as well — not only does Oct. 1 kick off breast cancer month, but it will also be the launching of a significant part of the Affordable Care Act, when the healthcare exchanges meant to help the uninsured find affordable insurance go live. At such a critical time, this solo show wants us to keep our eyes wide open.

“Embodiment and the Medical Gaze” opens Oct. 1 at 6 p.m., with a talk at 6:30 p.m., at the CAS Gallery at the University of Miami, 1210 Stanford Dr., Coral Gables; 305-284-3161;