In its first ever showing in a commercial gallery setting, Spence’s series from 1988 ‘Hiding by Joking: Why Do I Have to Hide My Injuries?’ revisits her ongoing battle with breast cancer. Spence was made to feel that her breast, scarred as a result of a lumpectomy, should be hidden and was something to be ashamed of. She fights back against this, quite literally asking why she must hide her injuries. The work questions the silence that surrounds medical care and illness.
In the sequence, Jo is wearing a mask, which were first used in Jo’s work in a collective way in the 1970s through the ‘Faces’ group and was a prop she continued to use throughout her practice, whether ‘Remodelling Photo History’ or with later works like ‘Not Our Class’ or ultimately, ‘The Final Project’, her last body of work.
Here you see Jo emerging out from under a blanket to reveal her face is no longer partially obscured by the mask. In a way, the mask stands in as a physical manifestation of the walls and barriers used to protect, hide and internalize feelings – barriers that Spence brought down through her Photo Therapy work.
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