Gowns with a Message – Catharsis: An Exploration of Art, Disease and Healing

April 20, 2015

Catharsis: An Exploration of Art, Disease and Healing will be on the 2nd floor landing of the Health Sciences Learning Center, just outside Ebling Library, starting Thursday, April 23rd.

In this evocative exhibit, Textile & Apparel Design student, Erin Aubrey, shares five gowns; one for each person her childhood community lost to cancer & a final dress for the incredible people who supported their loved-ones through the unrelenting trial of disease.


Erin’s collection is dedicated to exploring the effects of cancer on patients and their care givers, to aid in her own healing and to invite others to relate and contemplate their own experiences with disease.

There are five gowns at the top of the stairs on the 2nd floor landing just outside the entrance to the Ebling Library for the Health Sciences. What is a fashion “statement” doing in a Health Sciences Learning Center? UW Textile & Apparel Design student, Erin answers that question with this thoughtful exhibit.


Erin grew up in an Illinois suburb that suffered the loss of four of their tight-knit community members to cancer when Erin was growing up.

Each of the gown’s form and fabric is informed by the colors and the patterns of the cancer cells that ran rampant in each of those neighbors.

Each gown is dedicated to the person whose life was cut short by the disease. The fifth gown, in white, represents all the community members who supported their friends; taking them to their treatments, bringing them casseroles, praying for them.

Erin’s hope is that people and practitioners will consider that while cancer is devastating, the cell structures themselves and the emotions they reveal in those fighting the battle and supporting the patients, have a relative beauty.


Just finishing her undergraduate years, Erin’s insightful words make this a compelling installation for the public and health care professionals.

“By incorporating cancerous cellular imagery into the design of the gowns’ intricate textures in order to create strong, graceful and beautiful dress, Catharsis contemplates the complex tension between the destruction of disease and the unexpected beauty that accompanies it.”

The gowns stand like sentries through Thursday, May 7th. Do come visit. Ebling Library, 750 Highland Ave. Madison.

For further information contact Micaela Sullivan-Fowler. msullivan@library.wisc.edu or 608 262-2402