I developed Patient. from a series of watercolors that I was working on in the healing process of a surgery where my left ovary had to be removed. These watercolors were influenced by the work of artists in the service of science and medicine who painted portraits of Indigenous and African peoples for the purpose of study. What developed from these paintings were more questions: Who gets to be studied? Who gets to research? In what ways does the research practice always manage to be problematic? Why does everything have to be problematic when my body is concerned? I was interested in these questions as a researcher, and as someone’s subject of research. After all, my surgery took place at a teaching hospital. I lost an organ that I would never see again and according to my medical records has been multiply examined. So art informed another art form—poetry. I began to think the voices of the women I thought about while in the hospital. I’d read an article by Terri Kapsalis titled “Mastering the Female Pelvis” as well as the poem “The Greatest Show On Earth” by Nikky Finney where Anarcha Wescott, and Joice Heth are mentioned as both spectacle and research. My own research interests had been in how Black women’s bodies are depicted in western art, and that book had been informed so much by that book. I was interested in how scholars often go toward Sarah Baartman, a woman from South Africa who had been taken from her homeland to be put on display, to give background on why Black women’s bodies are viewed the way that they are.
I was interested in these questions as a researcher, and as someone’s subject of research. After all, my surgery took place at a teaching hospital. I lost an organ that I would never see again and according to my medical records has been multiply examined. So art informed another art form—poetry. I began to take up the voices of the women I thought about while in the hospital. Who are these women? We know the impact of their subjugation in the advancement of medicine, what of their legacies in the lives of patients? As a patient at Prince Georges County Hospital, Washington Adventist Hospital, and finally Johns Hopkins Hospital and also, as someone who was interested in these questions about Black women and Black women’s bodies I found that the most compelling material was not in what I would find if I researched these women, but what compelled me to research—what was happening with my body under the care of certain doctors.
What happened in the creating of Patient. were the emergence of the kinds of ethical questions for researching Black women, discussing terrible histories as they relate to Black women’s bodies, and the telling of my own story in academic research. In order for me to emphasize this aspect of trouble in the writing of these poems I inserted myself as researcher, trying to make sense of the telling, retelling, and impulse to tell these stories.