Artist and cancer survivor copes after losing a piece of herself


Nicole Hasek

This wall is paired with markers for visitors to write messages about cancer and strength.

A year after her mastectomy, Tiffany Antone created “[unTITled]: how a breast cancer survivor learned to say goodbye to her boobs.” This art exhibit takes viewers through her long and intense journey to recovery.

“I’d gotten the message loud and clear that my boobs should always be perfectly-sculpted eye candy while also never openly flaunted,” Antone said in her exhibit introduction. “Of course, I was freaking out; my feminine currency was on the line!”

The Octagon Center of the Arts will be displaying this exhibit until Saturday. It is free to the public, and masks are required per request of the center.

“She created a lot of artwork when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and then during the whole mastectomy, radiation and all the recovery process over the past year or so,” said curator Vivian Cook.

Through her pieces, she describes her feelings of pain, anger, sadness, guilt and strength. Many pieces include a story or poem that gives insight into what the process was like. UnTITled is a piece where she tries to make sense of her diagnosis, saying, “Sometimes the cells inside your breasts just go rotten.”

The exhibit starts with a statistic: one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lives. Through Antone’s art, she considers this all-too-common, painful disease to be a thief and a goodbye. Her journey includes confusion about what to do after her diagnosis, saying goodbye to her breasts, praying before surgery, not recognizing her bruised and scarred chest and the copious amounts of pills she took to manage the pain.

“She’s incredibly brave in showing — through her visual artwork, her written and performance artwork — the harsh realities of having breast cancer and what that experience was like, kind of in very, very honest detail sharing those stories with us,” Cook said. “But then at the same time, she also has several pieces that are kind of funny and humorous.”

Several other artists who have survived breast cancer also shared work in this exhibit. Jill Sneed has a piece titled “Protected,” and Iowa State costume designer Kelly Schaefer has a piece called “Bra-ahh! Bra-ahh! Rendering, & Bazookas! Boon Renderings,” a floor-length skirt made of bras hooked together.

These artists were found by reaching out to the Iowa Cancer Consortium, Mary Greeley Medical Center and the William R. Bliss Cancer Center, their partner networks.

“We figured out how to best tell the story not only of Tiffany’s journey for breast cancer but how to also integrate all of the artwork of our contributing artists into Tiffany’s story or to compliment Tiffany’s story,” Cook said.

At the end of Antone’s series, she shares a magnetic poster of her fully healed, nippleless breasts after surgery. Guests can place magnets on her chest as replacements. This is displayed on a pink wall where guests can write messages about sickness and survival.

“We talked a lot about how important it is to talk about these really hard and traumatic experiences,” Cook said. “Talking about them and sharing stories is healing.”

This exhibit is funded by the city of Ames Commission on the Arts, Humanities Iowa, the National Endowment for the Humanities and Mary Greeley Medical Center. The Iowa Arts Council and Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs also support the Octagon Center for the Arts.