The Power of Art to Help Others
After finding out she had cancer, artist and MFA in Visual Arts student Eileen Powers looked to her artwork as a way of helping others. She decided to create "Can you make hair for me?", a collaborative photographic art project designed to bring joy and levity to those undergoing chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
"I invited artists, friends, and supporters to find ways to make hair for me that I could then photograph and share. The goal is to show that loss is real, but our ingenuity in dealing with loss is what makes us stronger, more compassionate humans," she says.
In this collaborative virtual exhibit, Eileen Powers staged and photographed hair and headpieces that students in our Expressive Arts Therapy master's degree program created in a course with professor Ara Parker.
Eileen Powers Welcomes You to the Exhibit
We encourage you to explore and engage with the artwork through the virtual galleries, and Eileen's video welcoming viewers and discussing her work.
-Dr. Ara Parker, Core Faculty; Eileen Powers, Artist, MFA Visual Arts Student; and Isabelle Olsson, Curator
In this first gallery, view photographs of hair and headpieces that were created by Lesley graduate students in our Expressive Arts Therapy program.
In this second gallery, view photographs of artwork that was created by other project collaborators.
Faculty and Artist Statements
Read statements by expressive therapies professor Ara Parker and artist Eileen Powers.
Faculty Statement: Ara Parker
I first read about photographer/MFA student Eileen Powers and her art project, "Can you make hair for me?", through Lesley University’s social media last fall. Some prints from Powers’ evolving portrait series had been exhibited at Mass General Hospital’s Cancer Center and her project was garnering some local television news media attention.
The images were captivating. Her Facebook page explained:
After finding out I had cancer and learning that I would need chemotherapy, I became stuck creatively…I didn’t recognize myself anymore. It took weeks before I could view my bald head in the mirror. But once I did, I began trying to think of positive ways I could help other people through my art. I decided to create "Can you make hair for me?" and invite artists, friends, and supporters to find ways to make hair for me that I could then photograph and share. The goal is to show that loss is real, but our ingenuity in dealing with loss is what makes us stronger, more compassionate humans.
I would like to have 100 people participate in this project via real materials or digital art...I would like this to become a joyful, collaborative project that I can share with others who have cancer and give them a moment of happiness in what can be a very long, soul-testing treatment.
I was immediately enchanted. Eileen Powers was transitioning from portrait photographer to subject/ portraitist through this project, creating a community-based arts and health project as she went.
Photography has a unique ability and potential to transform perception for both the artist and the viewer. It plays with inner vision and outer representations. Its capacity to portray diverse realities takes form through the medium’s magical and transformative alchemical processes. Portrait photography is a tremendous vehicle for character study, observation, self-examination, relationship, and reflection. These are all aspects of our work as expressive arts therapists. I knew with my upcoming spring term Expressive Arts Therapy graduate studio course, that my students would find Eileen Power’s art and story inspiring.
Eileen came to our class on February 16, 2020 to present her work and this project. She extended the invitation to my students to participate. What you see in this exhibit is the response of several students and the instructor to that invitation on display, alongside Powers’ series to date. We had intended to exhibit this work on campus, in our pre-Covid-19 planning when, at the time, collaboratives had created more than 60 pieces for "Can you make hair for me?"
Isn’t it amazing what an invitation to make art can yield in terms of creativity, community engagement, and the generation of healing life forces? By the time we rescheduled and prepared for the exhibition to go virtual for October 2020, her goal of 100 hair and headpieces had just about been met!
There is such tremendous potential for healing through the arts. There is strong intersectionality, both in theory and applied practice, between expressive arts therapy and artistic practice. This collaboration between these students in our Fine Arts and Expressive Therapies schools at Lesley University is evidence of that.
For more information: @canyoumakehairforme on Instagram and Facebook.
Artist Statement: Eileen Powers
In 2018, the Friday before Labor Day weekend I got a phone call. It was my doctor. He told me I had an aggressive form of cancer: lymphoma. During the next year and half I received a stem cell transplant, abdominal surgery, immunotherapy, and 11 rounds of chemotherapy. As a result, I lost my hair, and my identity. I had to learn to build a new version of myself. During treatment I created a collaborative art project called "Can you make hair for me?" to address both the physical loss of hair and the psychological loss of sense of self. I invited people to make hair for me which I styled and photographed into a series of colorful and humorous self portraits: alternate selves. I taught my partner Tom how to use the camera and invited hair makers to join in the photoshoots.
The project mimics the cancer treatment process in which the patient gives over control of their wellbeing to a team of medical professionals. In "Can you make hair for me?" I give control of the hair-making process to collaborators and then regain that control through the interpretation and composition of final work.
The project is intended to be a catalyst for the artistic expression and activity of others. Through collaboration and communication the project creates a community around making and problem solving; shifting the focus away from illness but still acknowledging it. My goal is to show that loss is real, but it’s our ingenuity in dealing with that loss that makes us stronger more compassionate human beings.
The graphic style of the project is inspired by immediacy of stock art, fashion, and publicity photos in combination with print advertisements of the 60s and 70s. I use the serial concept of the ad campaign to counter cancer colloquialisms, militaristic metaphors and warrioristic language. The project uses forms of commercial art to create an alternative view of cancer by subverting the idea of hair loss into an opportunity for renewal.
- Learn More About the Artist
Student Artist Statements
Read statements by expressive therapies students as they reflect on the headpieces they created for Eileen Powers.
Wendy Chambers Brown
Suzy McSourlace, 2020
As seen in the photograph "Janie Campbell/Suzy McSourlace"
Sour Licorice Laces, Haribo Sour Streamers, Lollipops, and Fleece Toque
Eileen has a gift of communicating her journey and allowing people to contribute to the conversation in a healing way. I have had both family and friends affected by cancer and always felt so helpless. Eileen’s campaign was such a gift to others, allowing for creativity, fun, and personal processing. I welcomed the opportunity to have fun while considering the weighty implications of a cancer diagnosis. Eileen is an inspiration as a person and an artist.
Ms. Clean, 2020
As seen in the photograph "Ms. Dishy/Ms. Clean"
Shower cap, rubber gloves, and Scotch sponges
When sharing my “creative homework” with a friend, she quickly shared an inspiration she had seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race show; a dress made from kitchen sponges. The beauty of this project is the sharing of ideas and creative conversations around how to make something bloom out of a scary diagnosis. I believe it allowed myself and others to express the continuum of feelings that a diagnosis or crisis brings out in all humans.
Kaeleigh De Silva
As seen in the photographs "Taxi Girl", "Mr. MacKenna", and "Parsley Sage"
Black knight helmet/casque, paper tassel garland, flower garland, hot glue/gun
Holding onto Eileen’s presentation on deconstructing narratives around the “warrior battling cancer”, I played around with a dark knight helmet to illuminate a previous concept I have explored about re-imaging de-formation as re-formation. The piece takes on a new life and is fluid as both a beard and headpiece alongside a bowl of blossoming life that represents creation in the face of destruction.
Preserved Sunrise, 2020
As seen in the photograph "Auntie M./Preserved Sunrise"
Hot glue, lace fabric, artificial tulips, round doilies, Silk material, wired styrofoam hoop
I was inspired by the presentation of Eileen Powers and her work that she does with art and photography. When looking at the art materials provided, I was inspired by the warm colors that the artificial tulips had. I also am fascinated with the clear lace material and how it can preserve colors and elements.
Rockin’ Rainbow, 2020
As seen in the photograph "Dutch Girl/Rockin’ Rainbow"
Paint chips, masking tape, shower cap
I was so inspired by Powers’ playful approach to her work and decided to contribute a piece that matched that energy. My media choice, free paint chips from the hardware store, was inspired by Eileen’s love for bright colors.
Earth Goddess, 2020
As seen in the photograph "Primavera"
Reindeer moss, fake flowers, baseball cap, and assorted beads
I was very moved by Eileen’s story behind 'Can You Make Hair For Me?' and felt very compelled to contribute to such a powerful and creative project. A big inspiration was my aunt, who is undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. I wanted to make a headpiece in her honor that represents everything I wish for her in the future. Hope, beauty, and strength are represented by nature-influenced materials, transforming a baseball cap into the mossy hair and crown of an earth goddess.