TA-TAs at The Frame

Boobies. Melons. Twins. Fun Cushions. “TA-TAs.” That’s the title of the newest exhibit to hit The Frame, focused on what is arguably the most prominent part of the female anatomy. “TA-TAs,” designed by fifth-year architecture majors Nina Barbuto and Jenna Kappelt, opened last Friday night.

Family, friends, and art lovers milled about the exhibit, chatting about the fact that the show was, indeed, all about breasts. “It’s something that we both wanted to show in our work, but it’s hard to show in architecture. But at the same time, there are still architectural aspects to the art,” said Barbuto. Everything was planned down to the very last detail; even the food took on the theme of breasts.

Visitors were invited to take a sip of wine-filled bags mounted on the wall, with nipples as taps. The walls were also decorated with photos and drawings, each showing an element of architecture or machinery that took the shape of breasts. Bean-bag chairs (with painted nipples) faced a looped video of a woman’s cleavage exploding out of her shirt. Next to the video presentation, there was a table with place settings in which the bowls, knives, forks, and spoons were all in the form of breasts.

Overhead, a canopy of bras netted together stretched halfway across the room. “Being in architecture, it’s hard to remove yourself from defining spaces,” Kappelt said. At least 30 bras of different brands, shapes, sizes, colors, and styles were hooked together to form the canopy. “A lot of the bras are ours,” she said. “We also just started asking our friends and people in our studios and they donated them.”

Creating a border around the entire main room, a banner featured Kappelt’s and Barbuto’s breast-prints. Neither of the artists was self-conscious about this part of the exhibit. “For anyone who knows us, it’s not exposing any more than we would in our personal lives,” Kappelt said. In the other room, whose walls were covered with white paper, visitors of either gender had the opportunity to contribute their own breast-prints. Prints varying in shape and size adorned the walls in various colors, peppered with names and phrases. Visitors could also put their faces in a cutout and be photographed next to a breast.
The awareness wall, the most powerful part of the display, featured graphic images of women in various stages of breast cancer, from untreated infections to post-chemotherapy. The photos were startling illustrations of cancer-ridden breasts, flesh eaten away, surgery scars, and seemingly normal inflammations gone awry. Most people found them so horrible that they couldn’t help but look on with unwavering stares. “You hear about breast cancer, but you don’t know if it’s really scary,” Kappelt said. The artists had originally planned to put the photos up against a landscape background, but felt that the white walls made them stand out and elicited a greater viewer response.

Strategically placed in the center of all the pictures were the typical breast examination instructions that are available at almost every health clinic, but with flair. The hand-illustrated tutorial was created in a style similar to that of a comic strip. The written instructions were simple, lacking the impersonal medical tone. The instructions were appropriately titled “Touching yourself for happier boobs.”

“Jenna made it fun to touch yourself,” explained Barbuto. “Usually you go to the doctor and get the examination instructions and you’re like ‘Oh, I don’t want to touch myself; these pamphlets are boring and weird and in black and white.’ But [you need to] touch yourself because your body’s going to hate you if you don’t and you get cancer.”

Breast cancer is a rising epidemic. Over 215,000 American women get breast cancer every year, and worldwide it is the second most fatal cancer in women. One in eight women will get breast cancer today, up from one in 20 in 1960.

Despite the comedy and occasional awkwardness of the topic, both Barbuto and Kappelt made an active decision to address a somber topic. The artists showed that however funny and playful a topic breasts may seem, breast cancer is serious, though preventable through awareness and vigilance. “It’s a celebration of breasts,” Kappelt said, “but you can’t understand them unless you know how you can lose them.”