Cancer survivor Jessica Lieberman is ‘Becoming Visible’ at Gallery r exhibition

RIT professor stole images of herself during treatments for life-threatening illness

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When Jessica Lieberman looked in the mirror during her chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she didn’t recognize herself. The RIT professor is sharing her life-threatening medical journey in the Gallery r exhibition Becoming Visible.

In 1998, when Jessica Lieberman was a 27-year-old graduate student at University of Michigan, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma stage IIIB.

“I was also diagnosed with lupus so it was a double whammy,” says Lieberman, assistant professor of visual culture at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Lieberman’s documentation of her painful, two-year medical journey in Becoming Visible will be on display in a photographic exhibition at Gallery r, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Metro Showcase and Learning Laboratory for the Arts, Nov. 1–27. An opening reception and accompanying book launch will be held during Rochester’s citywide First Friday gallery night 6–9 p.m. Nov. 1.

While she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment, Lieberman says she “stole” images of herself and her experience using plastic Holga cameras and a Pentax K1000.

“This was before the enactment of the new HIPPA laws, and hospital staff told me I was banned from taking photographs or having copies of the images of my body from CT scans or MRIs,” says Lieberman. “So I hid disposable cameras underneath my sweatshirt or blankets and no one suspected anything because I was always cold.”

Becoming Visible features 30 photographs and a dozen objects and medical scans that capture her physical and mental suffering.

Therese Mulligan, chair of RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, says Lieberman astutely interweaves a diaristic mode of storytelling with blunt and candid snapshot photographs, medical documents and body scans.

“Text and image build upon one another, creating an intricate visual story of personal pathography, an intense examination of a life lived under constant threat of disease.”

Lieberman is now married to the man who stood by her side during her ordeal, Amit Ray, associate professor in the English department at RIT. And together they have two “miracle” children, Lucy and Kiran.

“There is no remission only because of how advanced my cancer was; I have what they call long-term disease free survival,” Lieberman says. “One of the text images in the exhibition reveals the state of my health after treatment: Diet: Regular; Activity: As tolerated; Condition of patient at discharge: Alive.”

Gallery r, located at 100 College Ave., sits adjacent to Lumiere Photo, home to Spectrum Gallery, and is just a few yards from the Memorial Art Gallery and Village Gate. The gallery space is under the helm of RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, and offers students the same challenges and expectations that confront established artists—focusing on diverse exhibitions, educational opportunities and collaborations with the public, other arts institutions and community groups.

Gallery r is handicapped accessible, features easy street and off-street parking, and is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. All exhibits are free and open to the public. For more information, call Zerbe Sodervick at 585-475-4977.