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Undark: The Radium Girls.

Donna Garcia | United States

Radioactive, 2017. Archival Pigment Print, 30 x 20.

Very few people know of the Radium Girls today. They were a group of women in the 1920’s who made their living painting glow-in-the-dark faces onto watches and clocks with a chemical called Radium. When these women began to display the horrific side effects of becoming radioactive, no one cared. However, because of their courage we have The Occupational Care Act and OSHA.

This project is an empathic historical recreation documenting their struggle and revisiting their significance, through a fine art narrative. Utilizing abstraction and ambiguity, I seek to add a lyrical quality to this work, which gives my subjects a voice in the present; something they did not have in the past. 

Undark: The Radium Girls

 

 

Undark: The Radium Girls is inspired by a group of women in the 1920’s who made their living painting glow-in-the-dark faces onto watches and clocks with a chemical called Radium.  When these women began to display the horrific side effects of becoming radioactive, no one cared. 

 

Radiation began to literally devour their bodies from the inside out, honeycombing their bones.  The moment a girl knew that she had Radium poisoning was when catching sight of herself in a mirror in the middle of the night.  Instead of seeing her reflection, there was a shining, unnatural luminosity coming deep from within her - she was now a “ghost girl”. 

 

The “lip dip” was the instructed method for applying Radium– brush to mouth.

It was no surprise that the first symptoms of toxicity were teeth falling out, mouth ulcers, massive tumors of the face, disintegrating bones, and constant internal hemorrhaging, particular from the jaw.  

 

All that they were given to ease their suffering was aspirin, for pain and gauze, to stem the bleeding.  There was no help and no place to run, where the green glow could not follow. 

 

Beyond documenting their story, Undark: The Radium Girls, seeks to reflect a greater truth, which is that these women were isolated and ignored. This series takes the perspective of metaphorically viewing the cycle of becoming a “ghost girl”, and the intimate degradation, internally and externally, which slowly altered their reality.  

 

My images are not meant as reportage but created to transcend what they actually are and become empathic historical recreations in a Fine Art narrative. They combine tangible and empirical reality with my profound reaction to it.

 

Through the use of dark ambiguity and abstraction, I seek to add a lyrical quality to this work, which speaks in a way that gives the subject a voice in the present; something they did not have in the past. 

 

BIOGRAPHY

“I subjugate my personal bias of what's real and allow myself to be absorbed into the formal structure of an image.” 

Donna Garcia’s work is connected by a unique photographic style that presents moments of epiphany and transition. 

Whether it’s The Watcher from City Walks; Before Harvest from Left Broken; or a cyanotype diptych like Remember from Into the Woods, a transcendent dimension is revealed through her own form of “lyrical documentary.” 

She utilizes metaphor and mythology to covey a past-present narrative, integrating environment with a sense of mystery that gives the viewer a feeling that something is not quite right.

Ms. Garcia is a native Bostonian currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Contact: dgarci23@studnet.SCAD.edu 678.522.3669

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