Why This Woman Turned Her Endometriosis Scars Into Art

Endometriosis is a chronic condition which affects an estimated 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years. The symptoms vary in severity from woman to woman, but those affected can experience painful periods and sex, tiredness, diarrhoea, irregular and heavy bleeding, and even infertility. Endometriosis occurs when the internal tissue of the uterus grows in other areas of the body, but the exact cause isn't known and there's currently no definitive cure.
The condition can have a significant, long-term effect on a woman's quality of life, and New York artist Georgie Wileman has channelled her own experience into a photography project titled Endometriosis. One photograph from the project is now on display at London's National Portrait Gallery as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. It's titled 2014-2017 and shows Wileman's body marked by scars from five keyhole surgeries she underwent in an effort to treat and ease her endometriosis.
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Writing on her website, Wileman calls the photography project a "personal documentation of my experience living with endometriosis," and adds: "I wanted to try to put into images what the reality of this disease can look like."
She then describes that reality, which left her "mostly immobile and in debilitating chronic pain," in heartbreaking detail.
"The map of the last few years is not built around experiences, work achievements or anniversaries," Wileman says, "merely the scars on my stomach and the dark spots of memory I try to push aside. My reflection in the hospital mirror. The pavement I collapsed on on his birthday. The wheelchair by the door."
Wileman goes on to explain that it took doctors 12 long years to diagnose her endemetriosis. "My experience isn't unique; thousands of women are mis-diagnosed and mis-treated every year, and it's not good enough," she writes. "With this project I want to make this disease visible. This is what it looks like. One in ten women of reproductive age have this, and we need to be seen."
You can see Wileman's full, incredibly powerful and supremely moving photography project on her website. Further information about endometriosis is available on the NHS website.
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