Notes from Galveston (week 5), Jac Saorsa, Visiting Scholar at the University of Texas

Galveston is gearing up for this year’s Lone Star Rally which is a four day ‘bikers’ festival beginning on Thursday this week. Over 70,000 people are expected to roll into this small island and party all weekend. I love on a main thoroughfare right in the heart of the action so I expecting the peace and quiet of the life I have been leading for the last month to be quite violently disrupted! For myself, I am not a motorcycle fan  – I am more the pedal pushing kind – but I am looking forward to the spectacle of it all.

I have spent much time in the UTMB Moody Medical library this week. (Next to the library is a coffee shop…always a magnet for me!) I have been focusing my reading in medical history  – particularly in obstetrics and gynaecology – and studying medical anatomy drawings. It has been a real treat to find beautiful copies of Vesalius and Hunter among others. These are very familiar to me from my studies of anatomy in training as an artist but are always fascinating.

Reading also Edmund Burke on the nature of the sublime and relating it, through the idea of art practice, with Deleuze’s ideas on sensation in The Logic of Sensation, a work on Francis Bacon, has made me think very deeply about the significance of the visual work I am doing with Drawing Women’s Cancer (

Pregnancy by Jan Van Riemsdyk in William Hunter, The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774)

Pregnancy by Jan Van Riemsdyk in William Hunter, The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774)

In terms of history I found this very moving extract quoted from a paper published in 1859. It recreates a mastectomy performed without any form of anaesthesia save the patient’s strength of will.

Next day my master, the surgeon, examined Ailie. It could be removed; it would give her speedy relief. She curtsied. “Tomorrow” said the kind surgeon – a man of few words. The following day, at noon, the students came in, hurrying up the stair, eager to secure good places. The theatre is crowded; much talk and fun, and all the cordiality and stir of youth. The surgeon with his staff of assistants is there. In comes Ailie: one look at her quiets and abates the eager students…Ailie stepped up, and laid herself on the table, as her friend the surgeon told her;….shut her eyes, rested herself on me, and took my hand. The operation was at once begun; it was necessarily slow; chloroform was then unknown. The pale face showed its pain, but was still and silent… It is over; she is dressed, steps gently and decently down from the table…then turning to the surgeons and the students, she curtsies, – and in a low, clear voice, begs their pardon if she has behaved ill. All of us wept like children.

About Jac Saorsa

I am an independent visual artist, writer and researcher in philosophy and contemporary art practice, primarily in the field of Medical Humanities. I am Director of The Broadway Drawing School in Cardiff, UK. I hold a PhD in Fine Art and a PhD in Creative Writing.
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