Thedra Cullar-Ledford: Perfect, With Or Without A Bra

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“Cancer is a cunt.”

At the end of September, I interviewed my former college instructor. I know they say you’re not supposed to express “favouritism” but Thedra was my favourite college professor and I was one of her favourite students in New York City, and perhaps, that’s why I’ve had such a hard time putting this piece together.

I’ll tell you why.

The valuable and undated lessons I’ve learned from Thedra during courses in Fundamentals of Design and Colour Theory are what helped me to understand the importance of composition within the realms of design and communication, the importance of visual perceptual properties: tones, hues and shades, and how each hue affects the human brain, emotionally. In a roundabout way, I believe it is why GrungeCake looks the way it does now.

When I found out she was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was benumbing. Before the news, I didn’t know anyone else with breast cancer and if I did, they probably hid(e) it. Hopefully after reading this, you’ll have a different or another perspective on life, breast cancer, and the intrinsic value of art as a healer and uplifter.


Jan Johnson / Thedra in front of a piece called "Fuck Cancer" which is about 10' x 10' acrylic on paper.

Jan Johnson / Thedra in front of a piece called “Fuck Cancer” which is about 10’ x 10’ acrylic on paper.

What inspired your latest work?

“What inspired it was losing the boobies to cancer. I just kind of wanted to document the whole process along the way, as therapy. When I first found out, I was really really pissed and I was like, ‘Fuck Cancer! It can suck my tit.’ I did a lot of violent and angry work. “Cancer is a cunt,” you know? I was just really pouring it all out there.”

In addition, she photographed what she calls “vintagey kitchen porn”. It is a lifestyle (and sometimes surreal) photography series where she captures breasts in different scenarios. From what she shared, she has completed the following as a commemoration to her breasts “because they were fucking awesome”:

    Crushing her boobies in the orange juice maker.
    Having them out whilst cooking.
    Making a titty cake.
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“I knew I was going to be mourning them,” Thedra said and laughed.

The two guys are Jerrod Gullett and Travis Johns, both from Proud Pony International, whose film "The Trouble with Ray" was an official selection at London's Raindance Film Festival and screened at Chicago's Reeling Film Fest, the Chicago LGBT International Film Festival. They are sporting Thedra's boob shirts, which are now available at Easy. Buy one!

The two guys are Jerrod Gullett and Travis Johns, both from Proud Pony International, whose film “The Trouble with Ray” was an official selection at London’s Raindance Film Festival and screened at Chicago’s Reeling Film Fest, the Chicago LGBT International Film Festival. They are sporting Thedra’s boob shirts, which are now available at Etsy. Buy one!

Purchase Thedra’s Boob Shirts on Etsy via this awesome link.

“Then, I did a series of paintings of the actual scars as they were healing. Now, there’s a little mini-series I did of bras because I found one when I was looking for socks, and I was like ‘Oh fuck, I thought I had thrown all of these away.’ It just popped out of nowhere. That just brought on a whole series of drawings. I did a book. I sold all of the drawings.

The piece with all the bowls on the wall is called "Tits on the Wall" and measures about 12 feet wide and 10 feet tall, made of oil paint on various metal dishes.

The piece with all the bowls on the wall is called “Tits on the Wall” and measures about 12 feet wide and 10 feet tall, made of oil paint on various metal dishes.

In this new phase, I think I’m trying to be the voice of people going through the same things. I’m painting all different colors, nationalities, sizes and shapes. I mean, everyone has them. Everyone on earth has nipples. It started with one platter that my grandmother had, and I painted titties on it.

Thedra details the “wonderful” St. Agatha paintings where she’s pictured holding a platter and her severed tits are on them.

“I think their really strong images. I just keep going back. I had the juxtaposition of the really shiny, silver platter [to begin with] and now, it’s turned into the titty-wall-thing. It’s taking over my studio but I really can’t stop. They protrude on the wall, at different angles. I had to start to start thinking about friends and their skin colours, and that really helped. Being able to see other sizes. What’s funny is all of these women came to my studio the other day and instinctively, they went over and picked up the tray that looked like them. I thought that was funny.

The piece with platters arranged in a grid is "St. Agatha's Platters". It's about 96" x 36" and also oil on various metal dishes.

The piece with platters arranged in a grid is “St. Agatha’s Platters”. It’s about 96” x 36” and also oil on various metal dishes.

On Rebuilding Breasts

“It really makes no sense. If you get fake boobies then, you’re putting plastic shit back in your body. Then when you go for ultrasounds, they have to look for the cancer behind the shit they just put in, which makes absolutely no sense. They’re only good for ten years. No one ever tells you that. It goes kind of like, ‘Oh look, you’ve got cancer but guess what? You’re gonna get a new rack.’ There’s not a lot [of information] out there. I felt very pressured by my surgeon and everybody does because it’s the norm. Culturally, I think if you walked down the street and saw that 1/8 women have breast cancer and you saw the repercussions on the street, it would be different. They want to hide it. I love to be made. I love glamour and sometimes, loved my cleavage but let’s face it, this is me now. There are a lot of women out there who are not gonna make art about having cancer because they are doing other things and they are not artists. I’m a visual artist anyway.

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Purchase Thedra’s Boob Shirts on Etsy via this awesome link.

I have another friend who was diagnosed with brain cancer at the same time, and she was a performance artist. Throughout her life, they are going to have to take out more and more. Part of her head doesn’t close but she doesn’t want to incorporate this into her work. She doesn’t want to tell people. At first, I had that reaction.

“I’m just going to do it and I’m not going to tell anyone” but if this is what you’ve been dealt, you’ve got to play this card and you can’t deny it. The harder something is, the more poignant art you’re going to make and I just turned it into therapy. Everyday, I try to paint. I’ve been walking. I walked two miles this morning and there’s titties in my studio.

    Thedra shared that when they are rebuilt, they don’t have any feeling and you don’t have nipples.

Before Cancer, Thedra made art inspired by a water bubble on her ceiling and created a gay alter ego, in which she will soon shoot an artistic gay porn video. Texan performance artist Colby Keller, you might have seen him in or on BUTT, is her next project. Colby, as in cheese and Keller, as in the blind girl. According to Thedra, he’s super-super shy and we can’t wait to see the porn and we’re totally looking forward to covering her show at G Gallery in Houston, Texas next April.


In April, Thedra has a show at G Gallery April 4, 2015. The gallery is owned by a “great” man named Wayne Gilbert in the community, who specifically works with people’s ashes when creating his artwork. According to Thedra, he is a rockstar.

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“He’s just super great and it’ll be like a little baby museum show.”

Thedra wants to rent blowup lifesize boobies that you can walkthrough.

“It’s going to go on the roof of the building,” she says.

Thedra is also apart of flatandfabulous.com. As explained by the artist, is a website for “women who have chosen not to rebuild. It’s so great, and It’s been a great organization and they’ve been really supportive.”

In addition, for any women who have breast cancer and they want to send images of themselves before their boobs were removed (to the organization), they are going to bury them in a coffin and honour them.

“There will be a little slit in the coffin, so you can put them in but they won’t be able to come back out,” she says.

“I found a 200-year-old wooden coffin.”


Thedra is so brave, inspirational, and so perfect, with or without a bra. Luckily when she learns, we all learn. P.S. Don’t forget to buy one of her boob shirts on Etsy!


For more about Thedra Cullar-Ledford, please visit her website via this link.

GRUNGECAKE
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