Tuesday, January 12, 2010
"Sims stands aloof, arms folded, one hand holding a metroscope (the forerunner of the speculum) as he regards the kneeling woman in a coolly evaluative medical gaze. his tie and morning coat contrast with her simple servants' dress, head rage, and bare feet.
the painting, commissioned and distributed by the Parke-Davis pharmaceutical house more than a century after the surgeries as one of its A History of Medicine in Pictures series, takes telling liberties with the historical facts. Thom portrays Betsey as a fully clothed, calm slave woman who kneels complacently on a small table, hand modestly raised to her breast, before a trio of white male physicians. two other slave women peer around a sheet, apparently hung for modesty's sake, in a childlike display of curiosity.
this innocuous tableau could hardly differ more from the gruesome reality in which each surgical scene was a violent struggle between the slaves and physicians and each woman's body was a bloodied battleground. each naked, unanesthetized slave woman had to be forcibly restrained by the other physicians through their shrieks of agony as Sims determinedly sliced, then suctured her genitalia. the other doctors, who could, fled when they could bear the horrific scened no longer. it then fell to the women to restrain on another."
this is the excerpt from a book i'm reading right now entitled Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington. she describes in the introduction, how she wanted to have this photo on the cover of the book, but was barred by the publishing company. and this, she felt, was the same type of covering up many people have done to the history of medical experimentation in this country as the artist (Robert Thom) of this photo has done to the reality of Sim's experiments and subjects.