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"Beautiful Affliction" exhibit extended

The John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science in Houston (The Health Museum) has extended an Beautiful Afflictionexhibit that includes the works of Cherie Acosta, Lamar University assistant professor and costume designer in the Department of Theatre and Dance. The exhibit was due to close in June but has been extended for an undetermined time.

Acosta’s work, titled “Beautiful Affliction,” is one of 10 works within, "The Body as a Work of Art: More than Skin Deep," an interactive multimedia exploration of how society imposes external concepts of beauty.  

“Beautiful Affliction” came alive when Acosta designed a collection of dresses patterned after captured images of biological calamities such as lymphoma, melanoma and meningioma she found photographed in “Hidden Beauty: Exploring the Aesthetics of Medical Science,” a book by Johns Hopkins University Professors Norman Baker and Christine Donahue. 

“I thought it was ironic that something so beautiful is also so destructive,” said Acosta, who suffers from an autoimmune disorder, has always been fascinated with diseases and how they affect the body. “The images in the book inspired me.”

Acosta had the captured images of the cells printed onto silk fabrics utilizing digital design. The result was Grecian inspired gowns.

Beautiful Affliction Performance“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 sense of beauty and the draping and focus on the human body and form,” said Acosta. “I also believe that due to the history of medicine, this was a fitting world to place the disease in terms of context.”

When the gowns were completed, Acosta wanted to use them in a performance piece that would speak to the nature of illness and bring 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 also in the Lamar University Department of Theatre and Dance, and together they created a performance piece. The collaboration is a visual testimony of disease that is showcased as part of “Beautiful Affliction.”

“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 showcases the piece in their theater, as well as clips as part of the dress exhibition.  Four Lamar student performers are featured in the film:  Charles Collins, Jenny Keim, Katelyn Kirk and Breanna Georgie.  Costume assistants Lauren
Cherie Acosta
Cherie Acosta
Revia and Jennifer Salazar, both Lamar students, and Amie McMillian helped construct the gowns.

 “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.”

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.