Cup of the Month Challenge at South County Senior Center
Brassieres Come out of the Closet as Art
by Carrie Madren
Before Madonna, brassieres were worn under clothing, not out front, and even a bra strap slipping down a woman's shoulder drew an admonitory whisper: Your strap is showing.
Nowadays, brassieres are bolder. As well as support, they adorn, uplift and titillate. What was once a concealed secret kept undercover, modern women have openly tossed aside, burned and shown off. From their place as the unmentionable wardrobe foundation, brassieres have evolved from utilitarian to artful to art.
For the Cup of the Month Challenge, women from Anne Arundel County and beyond have transformed 45 brassieres into artworks celebrating strength and life. This month bras are arranged prominently inside a glass case in the foyer at the South County Senior Center, in Edgewater in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
You're bound to giggle as you see the colorful, outrageous line-up created for the second annual competition sponsored by the Anne Arundel County Department of Health, the Annapolis Quilt Guild and the Breast Center of the Anne Arundel Medical Center.
Many of the artists used the bras to express the good things in life cancer survivors are grateful to live for. Some mirror lessons learned about cancer or ways that survivors dealt with their disease. From life's harsh winds, they've harnessed the energy to create beauty or meaning.
Not that you'd want to wear this art in real life.
With its poker chip-straps and tiny playing cards arranged over the cups, Texas Hold 'Em: Play it Close to the Chest, by Vanessa Carter of Anne Arundel County Health Department fans out four-of-a-kind aces and a royal flush.
Thanksgiving inspired Sallye Silesky of Severna Park. Her Perky Turkeys is supported by two tennis-ball-sized turkeys with tails fanned out against the cups, held up by straps adorned with fall leaves.
Other designs were inspired by Dalmatians, frogs, reindeer, berries, gingerbread men, ladybugs, celebrity photos, a Mardi Gras mask and more. In a bra artist Megan Meier, of Norfolk, Va., calls Glass Cups, she designed a mosaic to give more than support. The glass pieces, she wrote, are symbolic shields to deflect cancer cells.
Feather-, photo-, glass- and bead-adorned bras also help raise awareness of breast cancer by showing the resilience, spirit and joy of survivors and their loved ones - and remembering the joy of those lost to cancer. Many of the works, designed by cancer survivors or their families and friends, honored survivors and people who supported them.
Behind the playfulness, a serious message resounds. Some artists wrote their messages and cautions.
First-place winner Pam Schweitzer of Crofton is a breast cancer survivor, as are two cousins and a sister-in-law. She calls her quilted bra A Couple of Spring Chickens.
Two chickens - illustrated in small white or patterned quilt squares sewn into facing birds - form the cups as downy feathers adorn the straps and sides.
"You're not too old to get cancer screenings," she wrote in an artists' statement paragraph paired with her prize art.
Brenda Schwab of Linthicum earned an honorable mention for her Bay bra covered in fishnet and two large, red rubber crabs. "I was 'steamed' when I was diagnosed," she wrote in her artists' statement in the exhibit. "But I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't get too crabby."
According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will develop this disease at some point in her life - though a woman's chances depend greatly on history of breast cancer in the family and other factors. All the more reason for funky art to send a loud message of alertness, early detection, resilience and hope.