Faculty Spotlight: Cherie Acosta


Beautiful affliction

When Cherie Acosta, assistant professor and costume designer in the Department of Theatre and Dance, was looking at photos of microscopic images of cellular disease, she became mesmerized by the beauty of the figures. Acosta, who suffers from an autoimmune disorder, has always been fascinated with diseases and how they affect the body.

“I thought it was ironic that something so beautiful is also so destructive,” said Acosta. “The images in the book, Hidden Beauty, by Johns Hopkins University Professors Norman Baker and Christine Donahue, inspired me.”

Acosta wanted to take the photographs and turn them into a performance piece that speaks to the nature of illness and brings out the hidden story of battling such an affliction. To bring her idea to life, she enrolled the help of her colleague Travis Prokop, assistant professor and choreographer in the department, and together they created Beautiful Affliction, a performance piece inspired by the images from the book. The result was a visual testimony of disease and is now showcased as part of the exhibition Body as a Work of Art: More Than Skin Deep at the John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science in Houston. 

“Medical science has always been one of sight, documentation and recognition. The lens of the microscope, the documentation of the dissected body all contribute to the knowledge we have of the human body. Yet for the layperson, we are often put off by the complexity of medical images and terminology,” stated Acosta. “I felt that by taking these images and evolving them into a moving, breathing form they would be more relatable, as we all suffer or know someone who has suffered from disease. It was the process of taking something quite complex and breaking it down into form and movement that I believe is powerful for an audience member.”

Beautiful Affliction came alive when Acosta designed a collection of dresses patterned after the captured images of biological calamities such as lymphoma, melanoma and meningioma. She had the captured images of the cells printed onto silk fabrics utilizing digital design. The result was Grecian inspired gowns, which were then used in a dance piece choreographed by Prokop.

“I wanted to take the images that were static on the pages in the book and bring them forth with movement. I chose the Greek silhouette due to the idealized Grecian ideal of beauty and the draping and focus on the human body and form. I also believe that due to the history of medicine, this was a fitting world to place the disease in terms of context.

Prokop was then able to choreograph a performance by mirroring the movement of the cells and thus telling a story through dance,” said Acosta.   

The museum filmed the dance performance at Lamar University utilizing Progressive Pixels and is showcasing the piece in their theater, as well as including clips as part of the dress exhibition.  Four Lamar students, Charles Collins, Jenny Keim, Katelyn Kirk and Breanna Georgie, were featured in the film and performed as dancers.  Costume assistants Lauren Revia and Jennifer Salazar, both Lamar students, and Amie McMillian helped construct the gowns. The dancers are slated to perform the piece at the health museum's annual gala on November 3.  

Other contributors to the exhibit are world renowned sculptor Carole Feuerman, artist Sarah Sitkin, photographers Rick Guidotti and Cody Duty. Photographs from Hidden Beauty: Exploring the Aesthetics of Medical Science is also part of the exhibit. 

“The work focuses on the triumph of the human spirit to overcome illness. I want the audience members to identify with the individual fighting the disease and give them some kind of recognition as members of humanity,” said Acosta.

Beautiful Affliction, which opened on August 17 with more than 400 attendees, will run through January 11.




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