Artwork / Swollen / Breast Enlargement Surgery

before and after portraits of a woman who has had cosmetic surgery
Gwenn Seemel
Before and After: Breast Enlargement Surgery
2006 and 2007
acrylic on bird’s eye piqué
30 x 54 inches (combined dimensions)

Of all the paintings in Swollen, this pair causes the most trouble for the most viewers. I can’t count the number of times I have been asked why I would include a boob job in a serious and thoughtful exploration of womanhood, and, given plastic surgery’s reputation, I understand why I’m asked. That said, I remain confident that this diptych was a very important one to include. After all, anyone who tries to deny the impact our appearance has on our sense of identity is simply not paying attention. Our images of ourselves are deeply meaningful and it’s what makes doing portrait work—with clients, friends, family, and subjects who participate in my various series—so fulfilling.

What follows is the text originally displayed with Before and After: Breast Enlargement Surgery. It describes the earth change that I chose as an analogy for this woman’s transition.

Mountain-making is much more than a superficial event for the earth. When the Indian subcontinent crashed into Asia, the collision pushed up the earth’s crust to form the Himalayas. This formidable mountain range initiated India’s powerful monsoon, a concentration of wet weather on the subcontinent which eventually dried out Africa’s savanna. Though a subtler change in landscape than a mountain’s appearance, the widening grasslands did manage to coax primates down from the trees. The earth hasn’t been the same since.

painterly portrait
detail image
painterly portrait
detail image