‘I’m Taking Its Power Away’: Valeria Ganzman Copes With Cancer Through a Series of Self-Portraits
As trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk reminds us, the body keeps the score. It’s with us from the day we’re born, absorbing our deepest pain and most euphoric highs until we leave the Earth. Sometimes it’s our friend, and other times, it’s our enemy. Israeli artist Valeria Ganzman’s recent series Self Portraits With Plants “deals with the female body from various perspectives; the wear and tear, and its sickness, as well as sexuality, mortality, and self-exploration.”
Ganzman began her art career by photographing the nude female form, highlighting its vulnerability at all stages of life. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, she found it difficult to return to the body as a subject—engaging felt too painful, too fraught with personal fears. “My grandmother brought me some plants for my porch at the time of the illness, and I would sit there, watching and researching them,” she remembers. “I was too weak to draw them, but I imagined what I could create with their inspiration once I recovered.” Happily, Ganzman now creates delicately rendered botanical paintings where her body, stripped of all clothing and pretense, becomes a source of strength in its vulnerability.
Self Portraits With Plants marks a bold return to the female form for Ganzman, who surrounds herself with leafy companions. Her calming works highlight the shared characteristics of plants and people, suggesting that fragility and ephemerality can bind us together in unexpected ways, and even help us accept our lot in life. “This endless invasive documentation allows me to evaluate the body in a way that is foreign to me and even serves as therapy,” Ganzman explains. “To accept and eventually overcome the betrayal, as it sometimes feels, of my body.”
Created to help her cope, Ganzman’s soothing works are a balm on the open wound of her diagnosis. “By talking about it, I’m taking its power away,” she declares. “It becomes such a mundane part of my life, instead of this scary topic that no one wants to talk about. It’s not scary anymore.”
“It becomes such a mundane part of my life, instead of this scary topic that no one wants to talk about. It’s not scary anymore.” —Valeria Ganzman
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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