In the body of work titled The Anatomy Lesson, I'm creating a series of paintings inspired by sixteenth-century Andreas Vesalius’ anatomy textbook ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica.’ I'm addressing the incomplete way women’s bodies historically were approached in science, due to traditional beliefs, preconceptions or stereotyping, often serving to legitimise women’s ‘inferior’ social status, leaving women vulnerable in health issues.
I was working with this sixteenth-century textbook during the Belgian lockdown, following daily updates on the corona virus spreading around the world, realising this body of work, paintings of human bodies, is actually timely and relevant, as it points to our corporeal vulnerability. The research that is being set up into why women’s immune system seems to be more effective in fighting the virus than men’s shows the importance of gendered research and thankfully we’ve come a long way since Vesalius. Although, Alyson McGregor, MD (!)' 2020 book, Sex Matters argues that all models of medical research and practice are based on male-centric models that ignore the unique biological and emotional differences between men and women, an omission that can endanger women's lives. Still.
The Anatomy Lesson comprises paintings, sculpture and book art. In the works I'm visually reflecting on the way women’s bodies were depicted and studied in the sixteenth century textbook of Andreas Vesalius, an anatomist who taught at my Alma Mater, the KULeuven. During my research I found that in a sixteenth century anatomy book instead of a vagina, only a missing triangle remained from the illustration of a semi dissected woman’s torso. In Vesalius’ time, sixteenth-century Christian society, female genitalia were considered taboo. Female flesh was associated with sin and naked women depicted as satan’s servants. Before that, women’s genitalia were thought of as lesser versions of the male organs, turned inside out. Based on this, I started to make an artist book, The Missing Triangle. In it, I'm searching to restore this illustration from Vesalius' textbook, by using stamps I carved from clay on each page.
In its entirety, want to create a body of work that visually brings all those aspects together, addressing that some biases in research methods stretch out over time and compromise the research environment even today, as science journalist Angela Saini describes in her book ‘Inferior.’ This is not only bad for gender equality, or the place of women in science, it’s bad for science and for the understanding of human life itself.