Object Breast Cancer

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A sculpture of a tumor made by caraballo-farman for Object Breast Cancer
From and

The pink ribbon has been an incredibly successful piece of marketing for breast cancer research. For cancer survivor Leonor Caraballo, though, it's supremely annoying. "I’ve always hated the color pink," she says. "I don’t like the association between the infantilization of pink and women."

Caraballo is a new media artist who collaborates with her husband, Abou Farman, under the name caraballo-farman. The couple came up with a new approach to representing breast cancer: they make bronze models of real tumors, created from MRI scans, that you can wear around your neck or put on your desk.

With help from a radiologist and a computer technician, caraballo-farman first created a 3D computer model of her tumor, and then a plastic prototype using a 3D printer. A foundry in Queens cast the plastic model in bronze. They have made dozens more tumor sculptures since — some pendant size, some much larger. They call their project Object Breast Cancer. Cancer survivors are placing custom orders, and the medical community has noticed too. Alexander Swistel is the surgeon who removed Caraballo’s tumor, and he says that seeing the tumors represented tangibly has changed the way he understands tumors.

"Making therapeutic decisions based on three-dimensional volume measurements has never been, to my knowledge, done at all, in any kind of setting of any kind of tumor, but certainly for breast cancer," Swistel says. Cancer tumors have irregular shapes, often with tentacle-like forms jutting from the central mass. The 2D scans Swistel relied upon often led him to believe tumors were bigger than they really were. Understanding the three dimensional volume of a tumor gives him a much more reliable measurement. Clinical trials are underway and Swistel predicts that the outcome may change the chemotherapy regimens he prescribes for some of his patients.

Today Caraballo wears a little bronze tumor around her neck. "For me it’s a reminder that I’m here and this thing is out of my body," she says, "and I feel more powerful than it."


Slideshow: Tumor Art

Music Playlist

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    Album: Dropsonde
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Leonor Caraballo was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She and her husband Abou Farman create replicas of tumors that become sculptures and pendants. The artists start with an MRI scan of a tumor.

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Using the MRI image, they then make a 3D blueprint of the tumor.

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The blueprint goes to a 3D printer, which creates a plastic model in the shape of the tumor.

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Farman holds a plastic mold created by the 3D printer.

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At Colbar Art, a workshop in Long Island City, the plastic model is turned into a mold.

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Wax is poured into the mold, forming a model that is used to cast a bronze version of the tumor.

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A finished bronze tumor sculpture made by caraballo-farman for their project Object Breast Cancer.

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A model for a tumor sculpture, built as a proposal for a public art piece.

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A bronze necklace and a set of sterling silver worry beads made by caraballo-farman for Object Breast Cancer.

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