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Graphic, Fleshy Sculptures Confront the Abuse of Black Bodies

Doreen Garner's visceral sculptures interrogate the history of medical experimentation on Black Americans.

by Anna Marks
May 10 2017, 3:14pm

All images courtesy the artist

Graphic, fleshy sculptures covered in body hair form part of this strange yet intriguing sculpture series. Some of the structures resemble genitalia, while others recall ghastly tumors and sores. The mixed-media sculptures are unsettling at first glance, but their daring aesthetic entices the viewer to investigate further. The gripping works are by New York-based artist Doreen Garner, and as unorthodox as they are, the pieces generate an essential dialogue on the medical industry's history of experimentation on Black bodies.

Some of the pieces are aesthetically beautiful, entwined with pearls, glitter, and crystals. Yet Garner's sculptures evoke pain and suffering, with a poignant effect upon viewers. "I want my pieces to have a strong visual and emotional impact on my audience," Garner tells Creators. "I feel like that's pretty successful. Sometimes people have even thanked me for creating work about such a difficult subject. It's crazy but amazing to know that your art can have that kind of reaction."

Sketching and planning her work beforehand, Garner constructs her sculptures from a range of materials. "I use a lot of glass, a material I believe is very close to the human body. You can blow it so thin, and it will look as though it's human skin, " Garner explains. "I also use a lot of silicone and mold the material into shapes that resemble anus and vaginal openings." In combining various mediums to from lifelike imagery, Garner allows her audience to question the way they view different materials and to query what they find attractive, and comparatively, what they find repulsive.

Historically in the US, Black bodies were used as guinea pigs for medical experimentation, subjected to abuse by white medical professionals. One case in particular captured Garner's attention: that of James Marion Sims, a white physician known as "the father of modern day gynecology." Sims operated on the genitals of enslaved women, without anesthetics. He subjected women to horrific experiments, drugging them with opium afterwards to mask their pain. Garner's work reflects on this suffering. "My work is trying to bring these stories to the surface, so that more people are aware of them," Garner tells us. In doing so, Garner's work is hard to forget: aesthetically impressive, they imprint these atrocious stories on the human psyche.

To view more of Garner's work, click here.


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black bodies