“Giving these women an invitation and an opportunity to see themselves as immensely powerful, able to perform fantastic feats and overcome great obstacles is my gift to them.”
– Barbara Porwit
“Wonder Woman Katy” dominates the gallery. She wears a red cape and she’s seven feet tall. Don’t mess with her.
That’s the image Minneapolis artist Barbara Porwit wants to convey in her “Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project,” a series of larger-than-life paintings of real women battling the disease. The works celebrate the heroic nature of women affected by breast cancer including, for example, Katy Tessman Stanoch, the subject of a painting, a cancer survivor and a real-life superhero.
The women in Porwit’s portraits don’t all appear in Wonder Woman costume; each woman she paints for the project gets to invent her own type of superhero – with very creative and powerful results.
She started the project because “every woman I knew seemed to be getting breast cancer in a six-month period.” She wondered how she could help. “I thought, I’m a single mom, busy with a kid, when I do have free time? Oh, wait a minute …” she says. “Suddenly, I connected the dots and realized maybe I’m supposed to do something with this.
“Heroes come from all walks of life, but the journey of those affected by cancer is profound,” Porwit says. “Giving these women an invitation and an opportunity to see themselves as immensely powerful, able to perform fantastic feats and overcome great obstacles is my gift to them.”
Once Porwit completes each painting, she shares the work in a public unveiling ceremony. Paintings then go on to exhibitions and installations. This year’s set traveled to the Regla De Oro Gallery, the University of Minnesota’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery, the University’s Biomedical Library and the Owatonna Hospital. Through these exhibitions, her works have a wide-reaching and inspiring effect across the larger community and for women facing any sort of challenge, even beyond breast cancer.
Porwit has another connection to her cancer-related subject matter – she works full-time at the University of Minnesota as an assistant to researchers in hematology and oncology.
On the artistic side of her life, she shares a studio in northeast Minneapolis where she’s currently working on a new portrait for the Superhero Project. In addition, she received funding from the Minneapolis Regional Arts Council’s Next Step Fund in 2015, with which she plans to further hone her skills with art instruction and a retreat.
Porwit’s ultimate goal is to become a physician’s assistant with an emphasis on integrative (mind/body) medicine. “So, in my own superhero portrait I would wear a white coat and carry a paintbrush.”
Says Porwit, “The myth of the hero is a universal theme. We’re all aware of the villain, evil in whatever form. The concept of the superhero inspires us to think about our powers and how to use them for good. How will you become a fighter?”
BE A CHANGEMAKER:
Porwit takes portrait commissions for the project from individuals and community organizations. To find out more about the project and volunteer opportunities go to www.superheroportraits.com