ART: Exploring the Intersections of Art & Feminist Intervention in Medicine

Maria Novotny & Elizabeth Horn Walker
blue circle with one orange uterus.

Invitation to Participate

We invite viewers of our web text to interact with it as a scholarly pondering, situating community-based feminist work within rhetoric and composition as well as interdisciplinary contexts. In this, we offer our insight on the role of remediation, as a practice, in both our research and pedagogy. Specifically, we argue in this piece that the presence, participation and engagement of community members at this workshop functioned as a moment of remediation. Remediation, in that, it no longer is community-based work positioned as a site to be examined in our research but as a methodological embodiment of what Royster and Kirsch call critical imagination. We reimagine the role of community member bodies in academic spaces as well as how their knowledges can inform our pedagogical practices. We invite users to view our video in which we re-enact a blackout poetry making session, so as to encourage a critical reimagination of research and pedagogically practices. Finally, at the end of this web text, we offer further research and pedagogical implications this workshop has on interdisciplinary possibilities of feminist rhetorical scholarship. If readers decide to create blackout poetry at a research site or classroom space, we invite you to circulate these pieces using social media and tagging the art with a few of these hashtags: #artofif #blackoutpoetry #takebackyourbody #medconsent #medrhet #CFSHRC. We view the social media circulation of these pieces as an extension of reimagining how community-based practices can blur the perceived boundary of where academic knowledge gets formed and for whom such knowledge benefits.





An Origin Story: Or How to ReImagine the Place of Bodies

It’s a Wednesday morning, April, 6, 2016 to be exact. In our hotel room, Elizabeth and I pull up Google Maps to find our route to Houston’s Hilton Convention Center. With walking directions activated and our book bags packed, we head out of our hotel noting how nice it is to not be wearing a winter jacket. On our stroll over to the CCCCs registration desk, Elizabeth asks “So, how should I register?” I am caught off guard by this question. “Good question,” I reply as I feel rather guilty that I had not inquired with conference organizers about this earlier.

As we continue our walk to the convention center, we both start talking about how to proceed with registration. The $185 professorial registration seems absurd for her to pay. Elizabeth mentions how she feels like she should pay more than the $45 student rate, given that she has a full time job and could feasibly contribute more. We are left perplexed with how to proceed.

We intentionally begin this piece with this story so as to raise attention to the place of non-academic bodies in academic spaces. As a community member and ART of Infertility founder, Elizabeth’s body at CCCCs occupied a liminal space. While she was listed on the program as a workshop leader for the CWSHRC Action Hour she did not identify with a particular institutional place nor any CCCC disciplinary background. Yet, the presence of her body and identity as a community member at this conference should not feel out of place especially in the context of feminist rhetorics. Specifically, Elizabeth and I saw her presence and participation at the CWSHRC Action Hour workshop as an embodied feminist intervention remediating the academic conference space to invite what Royster and Kirsch call a critical imagination of feminist possibilities.

In Feminist Rhetorical Practices, critical imagination emerges as an inquiry tool that invites “for seeing the noticed and the unnoticed, rethinking what is there and not there, and speculating about what could be there instead” (Royster and Kirsch 20). Elizabeth’s body functioned in this moment as an embodied enactment of critical imagination – offering attendees at the workshop (and conference at large) to rethink how the participation of community members can reorient our expectations of who should occupy academic spaces and further what knowledges count as valid or can be heard in those spaces.

Additionally, for feminist rhetoricians, much of our work speaks to the need to “listening deeply, reflexively, and multisensibly” (Royster and Kirsch 21) by enacting “an ethos of humility, respect, and care” (Royster and Kirsch 79). Given these tenets in feminist rhetorical scholarship, both Elizabeth and I believe that to engage in these practices, particularly when working with community members to theorize their embodied, feminist knowledges—we must actively create spaces within the academy for these members to speak to their own lived knowledges. While we acknowledge that feminist rhetorical scholarship has made available the scholarly exigency to recover traditionally denied and silenced histories, meaning-making practices, and knowledges—we see future work needed to displace the binary that privileges academic over non-academic bodies.

Elizabeth’s presence, participation and facilitation of "ART: Exploring the Intersections of Art &Feminist Intervention in Medicine" workshop directly models what we call a feminist participatory approach to engaging in feminist rhetorical scholarship. Further, the inclusion of artwork created by community members at the workshop extended this feminist participation—rearranging non-academic voices, perspectives and knowledges to the center of inquiry and exigency for the workshop.

CWSHRC Action Hour & Feminist In(ter)vention

Our workshop at the CWSHRC Action hour was designed to reimagine the place of bodies in institutional spaces (like academia, like medicine) in the reasserting of embodied knowledge in order to make more visible the bodies impacted by technical documents, particularly those found in medicine.

Doing so, we have gone forth by offering a remediation on this workshop for other scholars/activist/artists/feminists to explore and play with their own reassertion of bodies in relation to institutional space. As such, we ask readers to consider this piece as a metaphorical “toolkit,” remediating what occurred in our workshop and reimagining its possibilities amongst a broader audience and with broader implications for feminist intervention.

By reflecting upon your own bodily experiences within institutional spaces and pondering this workshop’s curricular adaptability to your own research and pedagogical aims, we hope that readers will think of this piece as a dynamic toolkit—weaving together both a methodological and pedagogical positions for more participatory inclusions of non-academic voices and experiences. What we offer below is then a feminist in(ter)vention. We invent a new methodological feminist approach to community-based research and suggest that through its dependence upon engaging and bringing the community’s bodies into the forefront of medicine, we engage in more interventional feminist scholarship.

The ART of Infertility: A Feminist Rhetorical Site Reimagining & Intervening in Bodily Knowledges

In 2014, Elizabeth founded the The ART of Infertility an art, oral history and portraiture project aiming to generate awareness about the diversity of conditions and people impacted by infertility as well as increase general health literacies around infertility. I met Elizabeth in May 2014, shortly after Elizabeth exhibited the ART of Infertility at a local Michigan museum. The two of us were brought together through our own experiences with infertility. Specifically, we frequently sought each other out for support as well as to navigate challenging situations that can often arise in support groups.

Our collaboration on The ART of Infertility became more established when we began discussing the potential role of oral history within the project, the overlaps I saw that the project had to multimodal composition, as well as our desire to document and make more available diverse (and ‘non-traditional”) stories of infertility. Since 2014, this collaborative community partnership has sprung into multiple directions—with the project straddling both academic and non-academic spaces. Together, we have travelled to numerous states hosting art and writing workshops, collaborated with prominent fertility specialists about the healing potential between art and medicine, theorized the project at a variety (medical humanities, feminist, rhet/comp) of academic conferences, and have begun bringing the project into classroom spaces through service-learning assignments and the hiring of social media, museum studies and oral history college interns.

Many of the stories and pieces of art collected for the project share narratives of infertile women and men processing their infertility diagnosis and infertility as an embodied identity. In these narratives, participants often describe a new found sense of frustration and critical awareness about the gendering of fertility as well as the navigational challenges required to make informed health decisions. The project has also revealed that these navigational processes of coming to understand one as infertile is particularly powerful when told through a piece of artwork. In talking with artists who have donated their pieces of art to the project, we have found that many view art as rhetorical medium which circulates across stakeholders and scenes. In this way, embodied infertility art takes on itself a rhetorical mechanism to translate embodied, often invisible, the biomedical impact of embodying infertility.

As authors, we also see art functioning as an extension of feminist multimodal intervention. Take Jo Crawford’s “My Consent” (pictured below). This multimodal installation reminds viewers of the required health literacies needed to navigate medical consent forms. It also serves as a piece of rhetorical agency, suggestive of the interventional potential patients have to remediate and re-interpret a technical medical document. Jo’s piece becomes as an interventional feminist artifact, taking back patient agency and reorienting viewers to the deeply embodied implications medical practices, such as consent forms, have on the body.

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Example Black-Out Art on Medical Forms.

We invite viewers to listen to Jo recite My Consent.

Caption of "My Consent"





certain risks


will be disposed

used for research

no right or entitlement

My consent

not an exact science

no guarantee


To learn more about Jo’s piece and her journey, you can read more on Jo's blog.

Technical Knowledges and the Invisible Body

When we received Jo’s My Consent in the mail, both Elizabeth and I were struck at its beauty but also the personal pain it told. As friends of Jo's, we were familiar with her infertility story and the reality that while she underwent years of treatments she was never able to conceive a child. So to see the image of an infant emerging from her own consent form was particularly jarring for Elizabeth and I.

This sparked conversation amongst us—particularly at the ways technical documents like medical consent forms fail to account for the stories (and often hopes) our bodies carry to those medical procedures. In many ways, medical consent forms—while attempting to protect the multiple bodies involved in medical treatments—actually make the body more invisible. Such insight should be of value to those designing, writing and implementing medical consent policies. These future designers, writers and implementers can be found in our technical communication courses.

In my technical communication courses, my central objective is for students to come away with an understanding of how objectivity in technical documents is rhetorically constructed. This objective is informed from the many other medical and feminist rhetoricians who have increasingly called for shifting the object of study beyond “how health and medical texts get produced” to inquiries examining “what embodied users bring to these encounters” as health artifacts (Scott, 2014; Bellwoar, 2012). Facilitating a discussion around medicine and science as objective fields of practice begins to make space for the debunking of such false objectivities.

Yet, The ART of Infertility offers a new pedagogical model to engage students with this topic. Therefore, Elizabeth and I sought to situate our workshop at the CWSHRC Action Hour as a feminist interventional movement. Specifically, designing the workshop around Jo’s My Consent allowed us to pedagogically attend to the embodied interactions between medical documents and the user/consumer of these documents. In what follows, we illustrate how others can model this pedagogical intervention of technical documents, such as medical consent forms.

Tool Kit: Blackout Poetry Medical Consent Workshop

A video illustrating this process can be found here:

Materials needed:

  • Black Sharpies
  • Pencils
  • A medical consent form (Note, you can find many varieties of consent forms through a simple Google search. Many medical clinics make these available to patients online.)
  • A stencil of a bodily object
  • Scrap paper to go under technical document being blacked-out
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Pictured above are a variety of stencils used for the workshop.

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Above are a sample of materials needed for this workshop. Included in the image are a consent form, a scrap of paper, a stencil, a sharpie and a pencil.


  1. Participants begin by selecting a medical consent form to work with and select a stencil. The stencil will be a bodily image, such as an organ (like the heart, a brain, kidney, lung) or image of an infant (as appears in Jo’s piece).
  2. Then, trace your stencil.
  3. Use a pencil to randomly circle 10-12 words on the document. Please note, blackout poetry intentionally invites arbitrariness. Therefore, words should be circled in terms of what immediately “pops-up” from the page.
  4. Participants next take time to review the words selected. We encourage you to jot down the poem that is emerging on a piece of scrap paper. You are free to remove words to craft your poem.
  5. When you determine which words will remain in your poem, circle them with the Sharpie.
  6. Proceed in blacking out the remainder of the sheet that is not circled.

Blackout Poetry Made at the Workshop

During the workshop participants were invited to select a consent form and a stencil. Consent form options included: a sperm donation form, a fertility treatment form, and a mental health form. Stencils included: a penis, a uterus, and a brain. A PDF packet of the stencils and consent forms can be downloaded here. (PDF 6.7MB)

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The picture above illustrates how the workshop was set-up at the CWSHRC 2016 Action Hour.

The ART of Infertility’s objective was to present the “trifecta” of infertility: mental health, male reproductive health and female reproductive health.

We then spent 15 minutes with groups making pieces of poetry. Many who participated described the activity as “meditative.” Some wanted to play with the idea of one consent form for one stencil, so they incorporated both a penis and uterus within a mental health consent form. Others shared that they wanted to comment on the “hysteria of female reproduction” and so they selected a uterus stencil to correspond to a mental health consent form.

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Pictured above are participants at the workshop as well as workshop leader, Maria Novotny.

The images below are examples of blackout poetry. They consist of a medical consent form that has been blackened out around an area, highlighting various words and phrases to be composed as black out poetry.

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Further Implications and Takeaways

We argue that this workshop employs Royster & Kirsch’s concept of critical imagination as it reimagines feminist research and interventional pedagogical possibilities. In terms of research, we argue that the inclusion and participation of Elizabeth at this workshop not only extends feminist commitments that seek to enact an ethos of humility, respect, and care towards our participants but reorients our scholarship to new questions such as:

  1. For whom does our community-based feminist research serve?
  2. How may the presence and participation of community members add to our research engagement?
  3. How may the active inclusion of community-members into our feminist projects and disciplinary conferences advance feminist interventions against presumptions that knowledge resides within university boarders?

We, argue, that a feminist participatory approach to feminist rhetorical research begins to address such questions and collapse institutional barriers that seek to make knowledge on community practices without inviting those in that community to actively participate in institutional spaces and disciplinary moments. Working to invite community members to be a part of the scholarly conversations we have about their practices moves critical imagination from concept to methodological action. Such practices have just begun to be implemented at smaller conferences such as the Cultural Rhetorics Conference as well as Computers & Writing. But more intentional work to the design of spaces, the cost of conferences, the privileging of voices must be implemented across the discipline in order to advance the communities of study in feminist rhetorical research.

Further, as an interventional pedagogical possibility, this workshop invites those in rhetoric and composition to reimagine the topics of medicine and art in our classrooms. We see the activity of making blackout poetry with medical consent forms as an interdisciplinary bridge between traditions of multimodal composition, medical humanities curricular approaches as well as interventional critique on the perceived objectivity behind technical communication documents.

In their 2014 article "The Medical" and "Health" in a Critical Medical Humanities, Atkinson et al posed the following question about the future of medical humanities: Is there radical potential for the medical humanities? In this article, the authors cited potential in the areas of art activism as a heuristic to disrupt and shift current limitations in medical definitions and practices. We agree with Atkinson et al that art activism holds much potential for the medical humanities. Yet, we also believe there is further potential to think through medical humanities education from a rhetoric and composition framework. A more interdisciplinary approach to the medical humanities, one we see that draws upon feminist rhetorical methodology in both rhetoric and composition and technical communication, can redistribute and call better attention to the multiple stakeholders needing ethical consideration in medical humanities education. We claim a feminist participatory approach to this set of curricular objectives may not only extend the disciplinary boundaries of medical education but also call attention to new sites of patient agency, narrative and technical documentation.

Our hope in illustrating and theoretically framing our CWSHRC workshop is to invite other scholars to not only ponder future interdisciplinary implications our work may have but also how the purposeful inclusion of community members into our scholarship and pedagogical practices may extend these interdisciplinary possibilities. That is, as an organization who enacts a feminist rhetorical approach to the act of curation, we invite those who engage in the making of blackout poetry in their courses, research, and/or communities to share that work in order to circulate and make more visible the embodied knowledges of non-academic bodies. To do so, we invite those who feel comfortable to take a photo of their blackout poetry, type out the poetry and send it to @artofif over twitter using the hashtags #blackoutpoetry #takebackourbodies #CFSHRC. We hope to partner with the @CFSHRC social media account to circulate these pieces of poetry across our networks and curate a larger, more diverse and feminist-inspired selection of blackout poetry to display at FemRhet 2017. If you have questions or would like more information, please send inquiries to:


Atkinson, Sarah, et al. "'the Medical' and 'Health' in a Critical Medical Humanities." The Journal of medical humanities 36.1 (2015;2014;): 71. Web.

Bellwoar, Hannah. "Everyday Matters: Reception and use as Productive Design of Health-Related Texts." Technical Communication Quarterly 21.4 (2012): 325-45. Web.

Royster, Jacqueline J, and Gesa Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. Print.

Scott, J. Blake. "Afterword: Elaborating Health and Medicine's Publics." The Journal of medical humanities 35.2 (2014): 229. Web.

Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition