There are few among us who have not been touched by breast cancer. Each woman’s journey with the disease is different. However, many have a difficult time expressing the flood of emotions that accompany the diagnosis and treatment. One local artist found her voice through art.
Thedra Cullar-Ledford, 45, produces what she calls a “mash-up of conceptualism, minimalism, storytelling and autobiography,” and has shown nationally and internationally. She and her husband Stephan built and run Independence Art Studios on Janisch Rd. off North Shepherd Drive. The studios offer unique work spaces made from old shipping containers to help support Houston artists.
Last weekend, Cullar-Ledford opened a one-woman show at G Gallery on 11th St. which will hang throughout April. This is no ordinary show; it shares the story of her journey through the diagnosis of cancer, its treatment and recovery.
“The opening was wonderful,” Cullar-Ledford said. “We had a 19-foot, walk-though boob at the opening, and we served boob-shaped cupcakes. We also had a mobile mammogram unit at the gallery. For every two insured women we served, a third uninsured woman was screened for free! The show’s actual name is ‘Drawing the Eye to Nothingness,’ but I like to call it Boob-a-palooza.”
There is no typical story when it comes to cancer but, even with that in mind, Cullar-Ledford’s is memorable. In December 2013, the artist was two days away from undergoing surgery to donate a kidney to a sick friend.
“I was not a direct match for my friend, so I was a part of a chain,” Cullar-Ledford said. “Someone in L.A. was going to get my kidney and, in return, someone else was donating one to my friend. The patient in L.A. required one last test to complete the match, a test my friend’s donor was not required to perform: a mammogram. The doctor found three abnormalities in one of my breasts within an hour.”
Cullar-Ledford had a bilateral mastectomy in February, 2014. While tests indicated only one implicated breast, Cruller-Ledford chose to remove both. For her, it was a simple decision.
“I am an artist,” Cullar-Ledford said. “I like symmetry.”
This cancer survivor also feels fortunate, and says she “got off easy.”
“They found mine early, the and the surgery was successful” Cullar-Ledford said. “I did not need chemo or radiation. Some women go back and fourth, through many tests and treatments. My journey was short but intense.”
“Thedra Culler-Ledford’s show reminds me of the early days of AIDS activist work in the art world: funny, angry, sad, sarcastic, aggressive and brilliantly executed, all at once,” said Bill Arning, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. “I was mentally unpacking images from that night for days after. As a man, I would be just as pissed about the experience as this wonderful artist.”
Cullar-Ledford hopes the show will travel to cancer support organizations and venues where patients will get to see it. She wants other survivors to know that they are not alone and that a positive outcome is possible.
“And everyone always wants to know about my friend who needed the kidney. He got one anyway and he is doing very well too,” Cullar-Ledford said.