When art doesn’t just imitate life, it captures it (Angelo & Jennifer Merendino and The Gathering Place)

July 20th, 2012 § 8 comments

There is a natural tendency to turn our heads from things which are upsetting.

But as adults it is our responsibility to be aware of them.

Protecting is not always the right thing.

Jennifer Merendino was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, shortly after her wedding. Her husband Angelo began taking photographs (www.mywifesfightwithbreastcancer.com). Angelo documented her surgeries and treatment all the way through her death in December of 2011 after she experienced metastases to her liver and brain.

The Gathering Place: A Caring Community for Those Touched by Cancer in Westlake, Ohio, said they wanted to exhibit some of Angelo’s photographs in their art gallery.1

After a successful opening, The Gathering Place pulled the exhibit. In their own words:

Shortly after the exhibit was hung some of our volunteers (many of whom are cancer survivors) and our participants found it very difficult and emotionally upsetting to see the exhibition. Because our mission at The Gathering Place is to provide a peaceful, healing and nurturing environment where our participants feel supported and encouraged, we have chosen to remove the exhibit so as to not add to the emotional challenges a cancer journey creates.


It’s not that I can’t understand how someone might find the images disturbing. In fact, I think you are pretty hard-hearted if you don’t. But that is the point. It isn’t enough to say you want to be “a community for those touched by cancer.” It’s important to get the message out: breast cancer isn’t pretty. It isn’t a pink ribbon or a one-day walk to raise money. It isn’t about wearing a pink football cleats in October.

I do not agree with The Gathering Place’s decision to remove the photographs from their art gallery once they had seen the photos, chosen to display them in their gallery, and had a public opening. Despite their stated goals, in this instance they don’t “get it.” The proof of that to me is the web address name The Gathering Place used to announce the removal of the photos from the gallery. The web address for that post is http://www.touchedbycancer.org/2012/07/art-imitating-life/

Art imitating life? No way. Angelo’s art is no imitation. It’s the real deal. It captures the reality of his wife’s cancer treatment for all to see. And sometimes, even when it’s painful, we must look.2

  1. Thanks to PinkRibbonBlues.org for the summary of the timing. You can see Gayle’s post on this topic here []
  2. for more of my thoughts on the reality of breast cancer, read my post “These things are not tied with a pink ribbon” []

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§ 8 Responses to When art doesn’t just imitate life, it captures it (Angelo & Jennifer Merendino and The Gathering Place)"

  • I completely agree with you. I do not feel people with cancer “gathering” at this place needed protection from harsh realities of cancer. If anyone felt uncomfortable, they did not have to view the exhibit. In my opinion, pulling the plug after agreeing to sponsor the exhibit was wrong. Those in charge should have thought of the details before agreeing to feature Mr. Merendino’s work, which yes, I find emotionally difficult to look at, yet beautiful at the same time. The covering up of cancer realities has gone on for too long. It’s part of a bigger societal denialism problem. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one.

  • Your title really speaks to me, Lisa. I also think Angelo Merendino’s photographs capture a reality in a way that words are inadequate to describe. In what social spaces may we bear witness to the brutality of cancer? Where might we gather to share in another’s suffering? I just don’t know.

  • Jamie Inman says:

    Having been a model for a breast cancer art project I have been at the receiving end of the emotional objections some folks have about portraying the raw horror that is cancer. It’s hard to believe the decision-makers didn’t have more discernment when they previewed the exhibit. At the very least they should have acquired another location for Angelo Merendino’s work, instead of summarily shutting him down. They owe him an apology, and some kind of amends.

  • BlondeAmbition says:

    Thank you for writing this, Lisa. No one could possibly be more disturbed by these images than Angelo Merendino himself and as a result of the heartless actions of The Gathering Place, he is made to relive his grief. That is simply unconscionable.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I knew Jennifer personally and she was one of the first women I met in my support group. While we were all devastated by her recurrence and death, we also saw the beauty of true love and a partner who gave new meaning to the word devotion.

    Angelo has a special gift and is able to tell a story through pictures alone. Are some of the images disturbing? Yes. But so are countless images of life’s tragedies — 9/11, Columbine, and today’s unspeakable massacre in Colorado. But just because something may be painful for some to look at, doesn’t mean such images should be censored.

    Let’s be clear: The Gathering Place contacted Angelo to use his images. They knew what they were getting and had the opportunity to preview the photos. No one would have faulted them had they had a change of heart and decided not to go through with the exhibit. But to authorize this and pull the plug a week later — after they have benefited from the publicity? Something isn’t quite right here …

    CNN spotlighted ‘My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer’ and Angelo’s work this Spring and it has received much critical acclaim. Lance Armstrong even tweeted about it.

    I have no doubt that the national media is going to jump all over this thanks to your post and that of others, Lisa. I suspect The Gathering Place is about to learn what it’s like to “reap what you sow”.

  • mary says:

    I had breast cancer in 1998, and 2005. There is nothing pretty about beast cancer or any other cancer– I had renal cell cancer in 2009. I hate those damn pink ribbons!!

  • PC says:

    The Gathering Place’s decision really sets a bad example for our children: ie. something makes us uncomfortable so we get rid of it. And this promotes “healing” how???

  • With respect to the recent decision made by The Gathering Place to discontinue my photo exhibition, I’d like to issue the following statement:

    Throughout Jen’s devastating diagnosis, we were fortunate to find organizations that embraced and supported us, much like The Gathering Place serves such needs in the greater Cleveland community. To say that I was thrilled when the organization reached out to me and extended an invitation to exhibit my work would be an understatement. I was ecstatic to take this important work to the next level and I eagerly submitted images for approval, which I received. As such, the nature and content of the exhibit should not have taken anyone off guard.

    While I can appreciate there are people who may find some of the images overwhelming and difficult to look at, I only wish that the feelings of the clientele served by The Gathering Place had been taken into consideration before I was given approval to install the exhibition. Based on the stated mission of the organization, perhaps this was not an appropriate venue to properly showcase my work.

    That said, it would be disappointing if the fallout from this decision resulted in negatively impacting the support of present and future donors of The Gathering Place.

    To everyone who has reached out to me privately and publicly to express their dismay with the decision of The Gathering Place to remove my exhibition, I see an opportunity to channel your collective enthusiasm and energy into something positive and I ask for your help in finding a new home for these photographs that have touched so many. I strongly believe this is the best way to honor Jen’s legacy and provide a voice for those affected by metastatic breast cancer. I am grateful for your help and humbled by your continued love and support.

    ~ Angelo Merendino, creator, “The Battle We Didn’t Choose: My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer”

  • Kerry Esbensen says:

    I too was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. My tumour was 10.3 cm and my Stage was 3C. About a year ago, my breast cancer showed up in my bones – many of them So, I am now Stage 4. Many people have been supportive. Some people seem to be afraid of it, including my own brother, whom I’ve not heard from in nearly a year.

    You find out who your friends really are when you are going though this nasty cancer thing. I have much pain, 24/7. I am spending this weekend in bed with pain, taking narcotics to help quiet it somewhat. The burning in my bones has woken me up at early a.m. hours lately. I then take meds and go back to sleep. One of my little dogs wakes me up so I can feed them. Many days, I don’t want to get up and do ANYTHING.

    It’s very sad that an exhibit would be taken down due to disturbing some of the patients there. It should be in its own section and those that don’t want to see it, don’t look! For people who are going through this or know someone who is, might want to see this.l For those, this exhibit should be available. Cancer is not pretty and many of us know this all too well.

    Good wishes go out to all who are fighting this or know someone who is, or who did battle it, and now is gone.

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