Andrene Taylor celebrated her 35th birthday a day early Sept. 23 with cake, drinks, friends and an exhibit of photos of women who have survived cancer.
Seven women of different shades of Black stood before a crowd in a D.C. Chinatown gallery to share their battle with the ugly beast that is cancer. Each of their stories were unique, from the emotions they felt to their methods of dealing with the disease.
To accompany their stories, they also shared their work through Taylor’s event, The Exposures Project. Under the non-profit organization ZuriWorks, this project is an expressive photography class and support group that teaches women affected by cancer to use photography and their experiences to become health advocates in their communities.
Given only months to live at the age of 25 by doctors, Andrene stands strong today after defeating blood cancer three times and surviving five chemotherapy treatments among other procedures. Although it began with a focus on her experience in mind, she decided to broaden the scope of the project.
“Oftentimes, you don’t see images of Black women who can say, ‘I’m a survivor,’” said Andrene. “I just really wanted women, specifically women of color, to share their stories and their experience and their hope. I also wanted to provide an opportunity for women to support one another while also learning something and so that’s what started this project.”
The women, ranging from ages 29 to 69, met bi-weekly for their lessons. There were even a few cases when they would come straight from doctor’s appointments or surgery to meet with their instructor Kea Taylor.
“We really wanted to communicate the different aspects of dealing with cancer,” said Kea. “Every shoot was like a spiritual experience. You would never know that they were dealing with all the things that they’re dealing with because they handle it with such grace and such courage.”
The gallery was filled with portraits that evoked the raw and vulnerable experience that is living with cancer told through these women’s lives.
One of the women featured was Monica Wells-Kisura, 47. She is a survivor of highly stigmatized lung cancer and she is a non-smoker.
“It was particularly moving because I got to shine a lens on part of my life that has been particularly private and that is often hidden from the world,” said Wells-Kisura. “The most important thing that this project offered us was an opportunity to not talk about cancer but to actually spend our time being in the midst of celebrating life as we are experiencing it right now.”
This project has had as much of an impact on the spearhead as it has the participants. “The more that I talk with women, the more that I helped, they more that they participate, the more that we can reach women and hear about their stories, it heals me. My life is not just for me, my experience is not just for me, I have to show up because I know that they’re counting on me. That’s what motivates me.”
The portraits are available for purchase with all proceeds going to help ZuriWorks fund more events for cancer victims. More information on ZuriWorks can be found at http://www.zuriworks.org.