Serena Shafer finished chemotherapy for breast cancer last Friday. Four days later, she was at the Sentinel Hotel, having her breasts cast in plaster by designer and artist Shaney jo Darden.
Darden’s in town as the founder of the Keep A Breast Foundation, a non-profit focused on promoting breast cancer awareness, education, and prevention among younger women through art shows. Shafer’s cast was one of 14 Darden made from the bodies of breast cancer survivors over the past year, all of which have been given to local artists as their canvases. The resulting exhibit—Treasured Chest—will be on view at the Sentinel throughout October.
Darden started the organization in 16 years ago, after a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. “No one was talking to me about prevention, no one was talking to anyone my age at the time about our risk, or that we were even were at risk,” she says. “It was just an old lady disease.”
The San Diego native wanted to raise awareness, and art was her medium. She came up with the idea of casting breasts in plaster and having artists create their work on them, and the concept grew from there. “For many years, it was just my side project, my do-gooder thing," she says. "And then it just became apparent that it was necessary, that there’s no other organization that talks to young people, so we started getting invited to different venues.” Since then, she’s mounted exhibits since across the US, and in South America, Japan, and Europe.
This Portland show is the first time she’ll feature only the casts of breast cancer survivors, 14 local women like Shafer, whose casts have been given to a 14 local artists, among them Melissa Monore, Jesse Reno, Ryan Bubins, Jennifer Parks, David Rice, and Lindsay Jo Holmes.
For Shafer, it’s been a positive experience after several grueling months. “[With cancer treatment] you become like a piece of meat,” says Shafer. “Every time you go to the doctor there’s poking and prodding and poison. You want to do something that’s a little more fun with your body.”
Many of the women involved in the Portland exhibit tell their stories here:
The casts will be on view through October 30 in the windows of the Sentinel’s new street-facing event space, Elkspace, located along SW Alder between SW 10th and 11th.