Zelia de Sousa
I was born in the Azores, Portugal, on the island of Terceira. I was a little girl when we immigrated to California. Although we were living in America, my parents raised me in a traditional, loving Portuguese home. My father was a carpenter who designed and built everything - even a house. My mother was a self-taught and talented seamstress who made her own patterns and could sew anything from curtains to tailored business suits. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic and the moral obligation of using our God-given gifts. Using my hands to create was encouraged throughout my life. This upbringing planted the seeds of my love for architecture and art. I hold a five-year Professional degree in Architecture and have worked in the field for over twenty years.
Following my sarcoma cancer diagnosis, I used creating art as a palliative tool when painkillers were inadequate, and my art became an instrument for healing and meditation. After I lost both my husband and father to lung cancer, I began to view my art on an altruistic level. These experiences inspired me to form the START HEALING Foundation (starthealingfoundation.org) in September 2014.
I create art anticipating it will inspire a cancer survivor, patient, caregiver, family member or anyone affected by cancer to create and participate in their own healing. This motivates me. I mostly paint in the abstract expressionist style, but I am not bound to a particular style or medium. However, most of my paintings are done in acrylic and emulsions. My art is unique because I try to convey artfully what I have experienced physically, emotionally and spiritually with cancer. For example, I create acrylic “skins” which later are “surgically” cut and “grafted” into another painting - a representation of my own radical muscle graft excision of my own cancer. This technique has inspired me to explore actual surgical procedures and terminology which I use to create my art.
I draw inspiration and themes from the medical and biological fields, and stories from people affected by cancer, and combine these with colors and textures drawn from Portuguese culture.
In my research, I reviewed images of different types of cancer cells recognizing the duality of their beauty and destructiveness. I remember feeling guilty for thinking that a microscopic cancer cell was beautiful when cancer is such an ugly thing to experience--it had hurt me in so many ways. As I delved deeper into the meaning of my art and what I wished to convey, I recalled the “beautiful” cancer cell images, and began bridging that idea to the “beautiful” things that happened to me as a result of my own cancer diagnosis and personal tragedies. While those losses were ugly, many “beautiful” experiences emerged from them; specifically, relationships which grew deeper from knowing that life is short and fleeting. Cancer, in many ways, enriched my life and paved the path for forming my foundation and creating an art career in the second half of my life. It is this "beauty" which I want to depict in my art work--the beauty of healing.
Despite the scars that remain, life is still beautiful and worth living.