Shirin Abu Shaqra

I Think The World of It (installation – 2013)

Nobody conceives of Cancer the way TB [tuberculosis] was thought of – as a decorative, often lyrical death. Cancer is a rare and still scandalous subject for poetry; and it seems unimaginable to aestheticize the disease.”

Suzan Sontag, illness as a metaphor

In my early twenties, I realized that my only lifelong possession is my own body. I have since spent my time poring over it obsessively; yet the perception I hold of it remains an enigma. Is this ambiguous relationship between me and my body due to the fact that I am its subject and its object at the same time? If I follow this reasoning (and my experience), I would say that when our thoughts and actions command our body, we are able to celebrate its beauty and hide its pathologies. The being, or the will if we wish to call it that, is then the subject, and the body the object. But the being ceases to be the subject when illness and disease take over, or when we brush with death. That is when the body becomes the subject over the will. It is through the prism of the body that the world is henceforth perceived. The gaze becomes introverted, and all external phenomena and concepts find their resonance internally. The body becomes the mirror of human nature. It becomes life, time, and death. Going through a possibly fatal disease, I got to dissect death ahead of time, and meditating symbolically on death led me ultimately to meditate on life. This ordeal of striding through life, death, and renaissance is similar to that of the rites of initiation, where one journeys before unveiling a mystery. When the journey of life is lived through the prism of the ill body, then the illness, when eradicated, becomes the rite of initiation. Cancer has been my laborious rite of initiation. Throughout the diagnostic, the treatment and the convalescence periods, transcendental and ontological questions erupt. Modern science is analytical; it describes phenomena and processes, but is incapable of finding the raison d’être of a ‘thing.’ How does something bad erupt from within my own body, and with no clear cause? Does this mean that evil is inherent in human nature? To eradicate cancer, one has to destroy bad cells but also good ones. Does this mean that wars are necessary for human evolution? Rather than finding answers to questions and solutions to problems, this project entitled I Think the World of It meditates on cancer as a ritual of initiation to life itself. It is a performative representation of a metamorphosis lived in solitude.

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