May 4, 2013

Second day in May - story of the snack defender

The story of the snack defender

The snack defender is just one of my favorite’s in the defender series. The defender art works are totems of our immune system. Not literal realistic macro-giant sculptures of white blood cells, platelets, macrophages etc... but cartoon symbols about the war they fight for our survival.  

Why the focus of my art is on these invisible to the naked eye, bits of us, is a long story. It begins with an important memory. The small child that was me toddled into the kitchen. The floor a tangle of scampering clicking 8 legged creatures bigger than I was. Father had proudly brought home a pile of live giant king crabs. Mother is screaming, honestly freaked out about how to approach these creatures and get them into a pot.

Later, still before I could read I studied the illustrations in my parents medical text books. I flipped past the people, but what interested me most were the layers of diagrams about how the systems in our insides worked. But, strangely even then I took to drawing dots. While doing so, drawing dots for hours, my thoughts were not about ink or drawing something realistic with the dots, instead I was absorbed by how the world is made up of so many tiny pieces, like sand, seeds, ants etc...

Decades later, grown up and married, I dreamt of an army of strange crabs my subconscious had taken from that important childhood memory. They were fighting a battle across complicated rolling canyons with columns, and vein patterns. Wave after wave cleaning away disorderly grey pink fungus-like growths and tiny dark chaotic dust. At that time, I thought, it was what the army did. I thought at first a literal interpretation, cancer being the Greek word for crab. But, that concept felt false, they were a defending army, and then proven false a year later at 24, I had a biopsy of a benign fibrous growth. Two years after that, and many more complicated dreams I had a malignant tumor removed. While I was waiting for them to cut it out I felt helpless, that all I could do was pray and meditate on that army of white blood cells, my immune system. All this in retrospect, I think about how the tumor was cut off from it’s food supply, it was partly necrotic, killed by the army even before it was surgically cut out of me and the cancer did not spread.

Both prayer and science had an answer. Another decade of my life went by, science had studied many families with the same genetic deletion as the one I’d inherited from my Grandparents in the cancer cluster farming valley. According to a European study of many people with our specific exact deletion 3819del5 had no symptoms at all and those who grew cancer, even if they grew it repeatedly and bilaterally, didn’t die of cancer because it didn’t spread. Is it my fate as one living organism in a polluted world, that I was given this particular deletion instead of another defenseless more deadly mutation? Or is it mercy and an answer to prayer?

The defenders are about the post industrial world. From the beginning of modern food cultivation everyone in farming valleys is being exposed to pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Then almost everything we eat is wrapped in plastic, leaching more chemicals and sometimes even served in P6 styrofoam. The defender series are giant macro-cartoon totems, a symbolic reminder of the microscopic army of our immune system, warriors defending our survival all the days we are alive.

This story was originally drafted for the Story a day in May writing challenge. Find out more at or via @StoryADayMay on twitter.

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