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WHACK'ed...and then everything was different

After a successful 25-year career as a magazine journalist covering culture and art Eliette Markbein had a moment that changed everything. In 2004, while riding a bike in New York City, she was struck by a speeding car. The spine and traumatic brain injury (TBI) she suffered impaired her speech and memory. During her rehabilitation Markbein discovered that art eased her pain. "My mind functioned seamlessly while I was doing art," she says.

Markbein's exhibit, WHACK'ed...and then everything was different, features portraits of others with traumatic brain injuries, many of them famous. Her technique is intended to parallel the TBI experience. First, she draws the portrait in charcoal, and then cuts the portrait into squares. Finally, the squares are affixed to canvas, the unevenness reflecting the survivor's own uneven senses and perceptions. A demonstration of her process can be seen in the making of the Keith Richards portrait.

In the artist's description of her self-portrait she says, "I started working on my self-portrait four years after my accident. Yet uncertain of my new identity and my chances of reclaiming a place in society I unconsciously illustrated this by cropping half of my face." This self-portrait was the starting point for the series of portraits that followed and the experimental technique for the drawing/cutting/pasting method used in the series, a silent testimony to what Markbein calls the 3 phases of TBI: fractured/reassembled/whole. Each portrait represents 150 - 200 hours of work and it took three years to complete the series.

Markbein says the pursuit of her art is more than a therapeutic journey; it's an effort to raise awareness about traumatic brain injuries and show examples of survivors who have gone on to lead full and productive lives. Some well-known survivors included in the exhibit are former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards and actor George Clooney. Each portrait is accompanied by an explanation of the survivor's experience - trauma, recovery and lasting impact.

Another motivation for Markbein's work is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While painting her "WHACK'ed" series, she became aware of the high incidence of traumatic brain injuries among returning service members. Markbein says she became focused on the need for education about TBI symptoms and treatment, not just for survivors, but for their families and society as well. She determined that WHACK'ed...then everything was different would travel the country, sparking discussions and providing hope and understanding for survivors.

CNN health reporter, Sanjay Gupta, MD, hosted a special report on Eliette Markbein's work: Human Factor and the healing power of art.

More information about Eliette Markbein can be found here.

The exhibit is being brought to HS/HSL by a partnership with the National Museum of Health and Medicine. The exhibit will be on display at the Library's Weise Gallery from August 23 through October 9. For directions, see our map and directions. You may also take the Charm City Circulator or MTA light rail.

For more information, contact HS/HSL Executive Director M. J. Tooey at mjtooey@hshsl.umaryland.edu or (410) 706-7545, or Associate Director for Operations and Technology Aphrodite Bodycomb at abodycomb@hshsl.umaryland.edu or (410) 706-8853.
Posting Date: 08/15/2013
Contact Name: Alex Likowski
Contact Phone: 410-706-3801
Contact Email: alikowski@umaryland.edu