Ellie Kammer: Making Endometriosis taboo-free
If Ellie Kammer’s art could acquire a human form, the much loved quote from international bestseller Eleanor and Park – “She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something” - could easily define it. Ellie’s art is not beautiful, at least not in the conventional sense. It is stark, brutal, and naked. The 26-year old uses her artistic skills to make images that create a constructive narrative around a condition which affects millions of women across the world but is rarely spoken about, Endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue that normally grows inside the uterus (endometrium) grows outside it. Most often this is on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and tissue around the uterus and ovaries; however, in rare cases, it may also occur in other parts of the body.
According to research conducted and statistics collected by Endometriosis Australia-an organisation helping create awareness about the disease- one in 10 women is affected by this condition, and globally more than 176 million women suffer from Endometriosis.
Ellie recognises the ramifications of such an affliction too well. At the age of 24, she was diagnosed with the debilitating disease. Since then she has soldiered through pain, numerous doctor visits, alienation, relationships failures, and low self-esteem. It has been two years since the diagnosis and Ellie has managed to channelise her hurt and anger into art that helps bring the disease to light and also encourages other women suffering from endometriosis to come out of the shadows and speak about their stories.
In an interview with The Adelaide Life, Ellie speaks about battling the disease, taking control of her life, and the cathartic influence her art has had on her.
When did you find out you were suffering from this debilitating disease? How did you cope after being diagnosed?
I found out I had endometriosis in 2015 when I was 24 years old. I didn’t cope with the diagnosis well, to be honest. I went through the typical stages of grieving for months after my diagnosis. I mourned the loss of my healthy body and eventually after a lot of anger, denial and gloom I began to accept the terms of the disease and tried to work with it instead of against it.
If you had to describe your ordeal of going through endometriosis in one word what would it be? What were the hardships that you had to endure?
If I had to choose one word, to sum up my relationship with endometriosis, I think it would have to be ‘volatile’. Endometriosis has seen me lose a partner, lose a baby, lose energy, lose weight, lose a whole lot of money, lose friends and to a certain degree my dignity. That being said I’ve gained a lot too. Facing an incurable disease can be motivating and it puts things into perspective. Small issues don’t seem to matter as much anymore which is liberating. Now, all that matters is my happiness.
Considering that this is a gynaecological issue that is almost incurable; how has this affected your personal relationships?
It certainly creates a divide between real friends and superficial friends. I am incredibly lucky that I am greatly supported by lots of friends and my family is especially nurturing. My partner and I used to have some trouble dealing with it, but we’ve just had to learn how to communicate with each other better and speak openly about the disease and as a result, our relationship is strengthened.
When did you start painting and how has it helped you to deal with the diagnosis?
I started painting in 2013 though; I’ve been artistically inclined since I was about eight years old. Art for me is an absolute emotional release. Some days I’m enraged and I channel it into the work allowing my artistic choices to be narrated by my emotions. Other days I’m quite placid and painting helps me achieve meditation.
Your art is stark, brutal, naked; one may like it or hate, but there’s no ignoring it. How do you come up with these paintings? What triggers them? How do you decide on creating a certain painting?
I knew that I wanted to discuss endometriosis in my work as soon as I was diagnosed so I did a lot of research into the disease. Learning that the disease was so incredibly common yet so under-researched informed my decision to make the work bold and large - I felt that a condition so misunderstood needed to be represented in an impactful manner. Endometriosis is not something that can be discussed in one painting, therefore I knew a series of paintings was required to properly communicate the issue. Before developing anew painting, I do a lot of research, writing, sketching, planning and photographing. Then, I will spend weeks or months on the painting until I feel it is speaking.
Do these paintings remind you of the pain you had/have to go through? Or, do you feel these paintings, at some level, help give women suffering from same ordeal an opportunity to openly talk about the disease, which otherwise they wouldn't have?
I think that my experience with the paintings is a unique one. I see the paintings as markers in the timeline of my dealings with the disease. They don’t really remind me of pain, though it may be true that I was really struggling during the creation of some of these images. Looking at the paintings now inspires feelings of pride for me. When I view the paintings I experience them as a window to battles I’ve fought and won and that makes me feel satisfied.
I hope that my works do serve as an inspiration to other endometriosis sufferers and encourage them to speak up. My intention is to comfort those with the disease and inform those without it.
Many might find your painting outrageous and “disgusting”. Do you think the shock value helps create a dialogue or does it push the topic more into the shadows?
The images I make could certainly be polarising but I’ve always felt that it’s a great thing. I’ve taken the approach of exposing the internal physical issues that endometriosis bestows upon its host because I think humans relate to each other’s external aesthetic. When I think about other people I imagine their skin, eyes, hair. I don’t think about their organs, cells and inner workings. I attach the disease to the exterior of the figures in my paintings to make the condition more relatable.
You ask women to write to you about their experiences. Does it become emotionally draining to read experiences of women who have had to go through what you had to? And, how do you respond to these letters?
I do invite women to share their experiences with me. I like to share their stories (with permission) to my audience. It’s important because endometriosis is such a diverse and curious disease. Having insight into someone else’s experiences with the condition can be informative and comforting. I also love giving women the opportunity to be a part of the fight for awareness. I do find it exhausting sometimes -some of the stories are incredibly sad and some of the women who talk to me are completely defeated - so it can definitely be draining sometimes. I have had to delay responding until I was mentally stronger. When I do respond I always make sure I express gratitude for their bravery and I try and offer support or suggestions. It’s very rewarding for all involved I think.
What has the feedback been like for your paintings? How have people, especially women reacted to them?
When I do receive feedback it’s generally positive. I’m often told by women that the work is powerful and has effected a desire in them to speak out. I think a large number of my supporters are strong young women of the ‘speak out’ generation. I absolutely adore that my work speaks to people who are passionate about enforcing change in areas that need it.
How do you think men, in general, react to your paintings? Do you think your paintings have created a dialogue among men that in turn has made them more sensitive to the issue?
I’ve heard from a number of men that before seeing my works they’d never heard of endometriosis and since seeing the works they’ve had several conversations with people in their lives who suffer from it. I think there is no denying the existence of endometriosis after viewing the confronting images I’ve made and I feel that it has made the topic less scary to discuss for some men. Obviously, when you’re talking about menstrual bleeding and vaginas you’re not going to win some men over- but like I’ve said - my work isn’t for everyone and I’m completely comfortable with that.
Would you say there’s enough awareness about the disease in Australia? If not, then what do you think are the reasons?
No, I still meet people all the time who have never heard of it. I think it’s as simple as society isn’t ready to openly discuss a gynaecological condition. It’s still somewhat of a taboo. I think we are progressing though, I see conversations around it popping up more and more on the Internet, on the radio and on television. We have a lot of good people on our side dedicated to making a difference.
What are your future plans vis a vis your paintings? How do you plan to continue creating awareness about endometriosis?
I have some paintings planned out for the next few months which are similar to those that I’ve been creating but discuss referred pain. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you exactly what I intend to paint but I am passionate about discussing the disease and the human condition in general, equality and positive body image so I imagine these themes will feature in my work at some point. As far as raising awareness for endometriosis I’ll continue to use my social platforms to do so. it’s not something that I’ll ever lose passion for.
Ellie lives in Adelaide, South Australia where she was born and raised. Outside of painting, she enjoys learning, watching documentaries, and reading articles that usually touch on the human condition. When not reading or painting, she can be found hanging out with her twin sister or getting some cuddles in with her partner.
Pic Source: www.elliekammer.com