Somewhere in between the endless marathons and earnest fundraisers for October's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month lies Tit.
Opening tonight at Toronto's DeLeon White Gallery, the eye-catchingly named art exhibition, sponsored by Fashion Magazine and Ralph Lauren to support the Rethink Breast Cancer campaign, comes from the veteran fashion stylist Rosalyn Griffith Hall. In her debut as a curator, Hall has gathered 25 women artists to produce a show that is as celebratory as it is startling.
Hall says she first started getting fixated on breasts when flipping through the pages of a women's magazine. She was struck by a recent supplement on breast cancer; while she thought it informative, Hall also noticed it seemed oddly clinical, with typical survivor stories and photographs.
While she says she's "the last person to talk about self-examination," Hall believed there had to be another way to raise awareness and reclaim that particularly female piece of iconography.
"I thought maybe we could do something in a different kind of way, let's celebrate the tit and what the image means in a variety of ways -- be it Romulus and Remus, an Earth Mama, or Lana Turner, the perfect sweater girl. There are so many ways to show Tit.Breasts mean so much."
A casual mention of her idea to the people at Fashion Magazine, and the fantasy became reality. She's been hard at work on the project since last January.
Hall was also conscious of the fact that most attempts at breast-cancer awareness oddly feel very male: The photographs are mostly done by men, the doctors offering treatment are often male. It was important for her to make Tit "a chicks-only show."
The chicks-only roster includes artists such as Floria Sigismundi, Fiona Smyth, Janieta Eyre, Deborah Samuel and Crystal Siemens with works ranging from photographs and paintings to sculpture. Twenty per cent of the proceeds will go to charity.
As the vernacular exhibition title suggests, Tit is a fearless, imaginative and wholly original look at breasts and what they mean to women. (Incidentally, the participating artists refused to let Hall change the show's working name to something more mundane.) Survivalism is not the message; art is.
One of the most thought-provoking works comes from Vancouver photographer Samuel, who submitted a photograph of the underbelly of her dog Lulu.
"When I first saw it, I thought, wow, what an unusual dress," says Hall. "And then I thought, wait a second, what's going on here?
"In our own way, we've all got our own meanings, our own issues to work out."
Hall's own photograph, for instance, is a gritty but humorous look at contrasts. Topless Carwash, captures women from Fillmore's -- a Toronto strip club -- in their own unique attempt to raise money for breast-cancer research.
She was driving by when she noticed some strippers were out on the street, stark naked except for signs advertising the carwash.
"I did a U-turn and thought it would be perfect for Tit. It was ironic, though, that when I asked if I could take a picture, they just ran for cover."
Since her first experience curating has been a positive one, would she consider doing another in the future?
"Oh, sure," she says, laughing throatily. "The next one will be called Tits 'n' Ass." Tit opens tonight at the DeLeon White Gallery at 1096 Queen St. W. and runs to Sunday. For information: 416-597-9466.
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