Amazon sculpture a tribute to cancer survivors

The Amazon, by artist Prune Nourry and on display in Manhattan’s meatpacking district (above), is a 3.9m-tall sculpture of a female warrior with joss sticks jutting out of her torso and head like arrow shafts.
The Amazon, by artist Prune Nourry and on display in Manhattan’s meatpacking district (above), is a 3.9m-tall sculpture of a female warrior with joss sticks jutting out of her torso and head like arrow shafts.PHOTOS: NYTIMES
The Amazon, by artist Prune Nourry (above) and on display in Manhattan’s meatpacking district , is a 3.9m-tall sculpture of a female warrior with joss sticks jutting out of her torso and head like arrow shafts.
The Amazon, by artist Prune Nourry (above) and on display in Manhattan’s meatpacking district , is a 3.9m-tall sculpture of a female warrior with joss sticks jutting out of her torso and head like arrow shafts.PHOTOS: NYTIMES

NEW YORK •For the past two years or so, artist Prune Nourry has thought of herself as a sculpture.

Nourry, who is French and splits her time between Brooklyn and Paris, received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2016.

As she went through treatment, including chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery, she thought of her doctors as the sculptors and herself as the material they were fashioning.

Now, Nourry, 33, has created her own work in response to that experience, as a tribute to breast cancer survivors everywhere.

The Amazon is a 3.9m-tall cement sculpture of a female warrior, with bared breasts, her torso and head pierced by thousands of joss sticks, jutting out like arrow shafts.

It was modelled after the life-size marble statue of a wounded Amazon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nourry's version weighs nearly 1,800kg and has life-like hazel-brown eyes, crafted from handblown glass.

It made its public debut last week, in a plaza outside the Standard Hotel in Manhattan's meatpacking district, where it will be on view until next month.

In a private performance, Nourry will eventually chisel away one of the Amazon's breasts.

"It's really, for me, a catharsis sculpture," she said, in a recent interview at a studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where she and a few helpers created the work.

Nourry, a multimedia artist who often works in sculpture and performance, frequently deals with gender, reproduction and bioethics.

She had planned to remove one of her Amazon's breasts in public, but at the last moment decided that was best done in a more intimate setting.

She also wanted to extend the timeline of the project because "healing is a long process too", she said.

So when her sculpture first went on display, she focused on another performance that connected both her earlier work and her life as a patient - she covered her statue with about 6,000 red Chinese incense sticks, symbolic of the acupuncture treatment she underwent as part of her medical care.

Nourry, who is in remission, managed to keep up her exhibition schedule, which included a show at Musee National des Arts Asiatiques in Paris, through her hospital stays.

"I felt lucky that I had all the work that I was passionate about," she said. "I didn't want to stop. But also the fact of being able to create something out of it is helpful too."

On the summer solstice last Thursday, as the sky flicked from hot pink to lavender to dusk, a small, fashionable crowd surrounded the Amazon.

Among them were boldfaced names - friends of Nourry and her husband, artist JR - including Jennifer Lawrence, Grace Hightower De Niro, director David O. Russell and graphic novelist Art Spiegelman. Jon Batiste, the musician and bandleader for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, began the event by improvising on a melodica.

As he sat down to play keys, Nourry's assistants, clad in medical white, joined the artist, who was in a lab coat.

Slowly, methodically, they lit the incense; soon the sturdy warrior, with her sheath of protective quills, had a halo of wispy, fragrant smoke.

The sculpture will remain on view for several weeks at least and will later be sold, with some proceeds going to cancer charities.

"The sculpture is not especially for me only," Nourry said. It was meant to honour all sorts of female warriors, she added.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2018, with the headline 'Amazon sculpture a tribute to cancer survivors'. Print Edition | Subscribe