Object Breast Cancer


Friday, August 03, 2012

A sculpture of a tumor made by caraballo-farman for Object Breast Cancer A sculpture of a tumor made by caraballo-farman for Object Breast Cancer (caraballo-farman)

The pink ribbon has been an incredibly successful piece of marketing for breast cancer research. For cancer survivor Leonor Caraballo, though, it's supremely annoying. "I’ve always hated the color pink," she says. "I don’t like the association between the infantilization of pink and women."

Caraballo is a new media artist who collaborates with her husband, Abou Farman, under the name caraballo-farman. The couple came up with a new approach to representing breast cancer: they make bronze models of real tumors, created from MRI scans, that you can wear around your neck or put on your desk.

With help from a radiologist and a computer technician, caraballo-farman first created a 3D computer model of her tumor, and then a plastic prototype using a 3D printer. A foundry in Queens cast the plastic model in bronze. They have made dozens more tumor sculptures since — some pendant size, some much larger. They call their project Object Breast Cancer. Cancer survivors are placing custom orders, and the medical community has noticed too. Alexander Swistel is the surgeon who removed Caraballo’s tumor, and he says that seeing the tumors represented tangibly has changed the way he understands tumors.

"Making therapeutic decisions based on three-dimensional volume measurements has never been, to my knowledge, done at all, in any kind of setting of any kind of tumor, but certainly for breast cancer," Swistel says. Cancer tumors have irregular shapes, often with tentacle-like forms jutting from the central mass. The 2D scans Swistel relied upon often led him to believe tumors were bigger than they really were. Understanding the three dimensional volume of a tumor gives him a much more reliable measurement. Clinical trials are underway and Swistel predicts that the outcome may change the chemotherapy regimens he prescribes for some of his patients.

Today Caraballo wears a little bronze tumor around her neck. "For me it’s a reminder that I’m here and this thing is out of my body," she says, "and I feel more powerful than it."


Slideshow: Tumor Art


Leonor Caraballo was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She and her husband Abou Farman create replicas of tumors that become sculptures and pendants. The artists start with an MRI scan of a tumor.


Using the MRI image, they then make a 3D blueprint of the tumor.


The blueprint goes to a 3D printer, which creates a plastic model in the shape of the tumor.


Farman holds a plastic mold created by the 3D printer.


At Colbar Art, a workshop in Long Island City, the plastic model is turned into a mold.


Wax is poured into the mold, forming a model that is used to cast a bronze version of the tumor.


A finished bronze tumor sculpture made by caraballo-farman for their project Object Breast Cancer.


A model for a tumor sculpture, built as a proposal for a public art piece.


A bronze necklace and a set of sterling silver worry beads made by caraballo-farman for Object Breast Cancer.

    Music Playlist
  • Altostratus
    Artist: Biosphere
    Album: Dropsonde
    Label: Touch
    Purchase: Amazon


Eric Molinsky

Comments [6]

Alan from The Mountain

I'm wondering how big the bronze is compared to the actual tumor.
In all else, I agree with the doctor that this is a good way to look at a tumor.

Aug. 11 2012 03:06 PM
Paula de la Cruz from NYC

This project is about exploring the shapes of tumors and how they grow inside the body, without taking size into consideration. This new approach is now affecting how at least one surgeon is treating BC disease. I participated in the OBC project because of the potential for this to happen. To say that this approach glorifies BC or demeans it into the category of a "tschotchke" is very sadly to miss the point.

Aug. 08 2012 09:48 AM
DIANA F. CRAMER from Syracuse, NY

Here is part of a letter I sent to Leonor after hearing the report:

"...the report about the OBC project on Studio 360 grabbed my attention as a woman who has gone through breast cancer but when I heard you say the words that you "hate pink" you truly won my heart!

My breast cancer experience was in 2006 and from the first moment of that journey I felt smothered by the overwhelming presence of the color pink in anything and everything that relates to the disease, it's treatment and fund raising.

As a 'feminist' myself I could not understand why the movement to empower women to fight and survive the disease would attach itself to a color that, in my opinion, suggests childhood, fragility and dependence, and ultimately once again reduces us all to little girls.

A quick anecdote: about a month into my breast cancer experience, my sister and I were visiting a support center in Maryland for 'victims' of breast cancer. The 40ish woman who was running the place overheard my sister and me comment about our distaste for the color pink as we perused the assortment of pink clothing, diaries, notepads and other objects for sale in their little fundraising shop. When I asked if there weren't similar objects promoting the fight against the disease available in other colors because I didn't like to wear the color pink, the manager of the center, with a hurt look on her face and a good degree of indignity in her voice, told me that I would now have no choice but to 'get to like the color pink'.

'Uh, No', my sister and I both said in response....'that isn't going to happen'. No, I would not suddenly decide to 'like' the color pink because I was a woman with breast cancer!

I have great respect for the art you are producing and the "Object Breast Cancer" project!

Diana F. Cramer
Syracuse, NY

p.s. I too do not refer to myself as a 'survivor' because I had surgery and chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer...I think it's obvious that I will not be entitled to call myself a survivor of this disease until the point at which I die from something else! "

Aug. 07 2012 08:29 AM
Tanya McKinnon from Westchester

I think this is a tremendously important project. I'm in awe of the strength, resilience, fearlessness, and profound intellectual curiosity exhibited by both Caraballo and Farman. Art is the discipline of seeing into and beyond what is there. Farman and Caraballo are giving physicians on the front lines of this epidemic a tangible and new way to see tumors and help their patients. Cancer is terrifying, but running away from its material realness is not the answer. Leo took control of her tumor, and that act of courageous, artistically-driven insight will save the lives of other women. I can think of no greater testament for the need to marry art and science in our lives.

Aug. 05 2012 10:01 PM
nycdesigner from NYC

I think the critic and previous commenter are missing a huge part if the artist's motivation for making these sculptures and developing the technology to facilitate breakthroughs never imagined by oncologists before. caraballo–farmann were able to harness their experience as fine artists to bring what a tumor really looks like to a wider audience. In the process, the scientific community learned something very valuable as well, and will likely have profound effects for the future of cancer research. Their work is the intersection of art+science.

Aug. 05 2012 02:21 PM
Judy Graubart Dishy from NYC

Dear '360.
I was infuriated with the sculptor and her enablers for glorifying the breast tumor as tschotchke. If they'd like to help save women and men from breast cancer, why not create, instead, a soft model, i.e., sculpture, of the breast to help people learn how to do self-exams, with various thickened areas implanted to simulate tumors of different sizes, and to help distinguish them, if possible, from benign cysts.
Instead of whining about "those pink ribbons", or chafing at the designation of "survivor", they might combine their research efforts and their art to produce something useful in the pursuit of breast health.
Perhaps then they would merit a greater reward than the glory of landing in an art gallery.
Judy Graubart Dishy

Aug. 04 2012 06:51 PM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.