Artist-in-Residence Capstone Exhibition at the International Museum of Surgical Science

October 16, 2020 – February 25, 2021

Opening Reception: Due to current restrictions on events and gatherings, the IMSS will be foregoing an opening reception in favor of a closing reception in January. Details forthcoming.

Hysteria is a solo exhibition by Spring 2020 Artist-in-Residence Selva Aparicio designed in conversation with the collections and exhibitions at the International Museum of Surgical Science. With a focus on the fragility of life and the implications of gender, race, and power dynamics in medicine, Aparicio draws on her own experiences to explore the innate power of liminal objects like the gynecological exam table and an assortment of forceps and specula at the heart of her exhibition. Hysteria centers both the memories imbued within and the imprints of past patients upon these enduring pieces to explore the nature of womanhood as a condition defined by conflict, pain, and transition, constantly positioned at the very precipice of life and death.

Selva Aparicio, “Hysteria” [detail] featuring stirrup assembly of c.1931 Hamilton Medical gynecological table (IMSS collections, O1991.3.1) adorned with hand-trimmed thorns. Photo: Selva Aparicio

Hysteria invites viewers to consider the effects of the institutionalization of medicine and subsequent imposition of strict boundaries in relation to gender, race, and authority in its most basic practice. The professionalization of gynecology in particular is a central theme in Aparicio’s work as it saw women removed from centuries-old positions of authority in favor of their textbook-educated male counterparts and the exploitation of marginalized women in the name of advancement and innovation.

Like curtains in an examination room, Aparicio juxtaposes historical artifacts and natural materials to manifest these boundaries in the reflective process and represent the limitations of medical practice and long-standing social conventions. Utilizing thorn stems and ligature, the ephemerality of nature is contrasted with the rigidity of western medical practice and the unyielding conventions that inform consent, agency, and bodily autonomy. 

Installation in progress: working with thorns. Photo: Selva Aparicio

The installation traces these themes beyond medicine to pose questions about women’s place in broader society. In the Museum’s Obstetrics and Gynecology gallery, Aparicio builds on the themes introduced in Hysteria with her iconic Velo de Luto, or Mourning Veil, made of seventeen-year cicada wings (Magicicadas) sewn together with the hair of two generations of women who have struggled in a patriarchal society. The joining of wings serves as a metaphor for the decay of life, both literally through the wings of the cicada and figuratively through the veil traditionally imparted on women who have lost husbands and sons. From Aparicio’s perspective, it is through these remnants, often left decaying and discarded as the cast-offs of death and loss, that we learn the most about life and are able to reclaim and reimbue age-old symbols with new meaning. 

Selva Aparicio, Velo de Luto (Mourning Veil), 32″x47″x2″, Magicicada wings and human hair. Photo: Robert Chase Heishman.
Selva Aparicio, Velo de Luto (Mourning Veil) [detail], 32″x47″x2″, Magicicada wings and hair. Photo: Robert Chase Heishman.

Selva Aparicio is an interdisciplinary artist working across installation, sculpture, and performance to create artwork that digs deeper into ideas of memory, death, intimacy and mourning. Born and raised in the woods just outside of Barcelona, Spain, she found solace in nature from a young age and cultivated a profound interest in life and death as inspired by the natural world around her. She received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015 and her MFA in sculpture from Yale University in 2017. Working with nature’s ephemera, including cicada wings, lettuce leaves, oyster shells and human cadavers, her praxis is an extended death ritual which foregrounds a particular reverence for the deceased and discarded. Aparicio’s keen perception of the meanings imbued in these materials and the rituals informing their sentimentality lends a unique perspective to her practice and allows her to present their reimagined forms not as entombments but rather as moments that capture both the donor’s and the artist’s labor to hold space and time for viewers to reckon with life, death, and human objecthood. 

Aparicio’s work has been shown internationally in solo and group exhibitions including the Yale Center for British Art; Can Mario Museum, Spain;  CRUSH Curatorial, New York; Roots & Culture, Chicago; The Kyoto International Craft Center, Japan;  Instituto Cervantes, New York; and the Centre de Cultura Contemporanea de Barcelona. She was awarded the Juncture Fellowship in Art and International Human Rights in 2016, the Blair Dickinson Memorial Prize in 2017, and received a MAKER Grant from the Chicago Artist Coalition in 2020. She was also named one of the 2020 breakout artists in Chicago by NewCity Art and is a current artist in residence at BOLT. Read more at

Art making is a continuous labor of pulling on strands of interest and finding inner connections. -Selva Aparicio

Interview with Christina Nafziger for Sixty Inches From Center, August 4, 2020
Artist-in-Residence Selva Aparicio. Photo: Meredith Donnelly Photography

Artist Statement

I am inspired by the transitory nature of life, loss and intimacy. My art reflects the fragility of life and the hidden beauty that can be found in the details of the natural world, and the understanding that beauty can mask terrible things. I quietly observe and manipulate objects both living and dead, collecting and documenting their evolution. I strive to draw attention to nature’s discarded husks and give meaning to the ignored, such as insect wings, dead birds, oyster shells, or human skin and hair, which I collect and commemorate through my artwork. For the past few years, I have been working with human donors in a morgue, anonymous by name but not featureless or without personality. I have made multiple pieces from my observations there. I crafted a barrier of oyster shells, hard, scaly, permanent, rotting – which I covered a body in the morgue with. This piece remains untitled. I bore witness to this body that had now been rendered insignificant in death, and to recreate this more cosmic insignificance I wore the barrier publicly, in an open, unimportant corridor, bringing the viewer uncomfortably close to my anonymous form.

I believe that by looking closer not just with one’s eyes, but with mind, soul and body, a glimpse of the divine is unveiled. My work involves constant investigation with different materials. I treat my materials with respect and attentive care, transforming the process into a ritual that allows me to explore their concealed, unexpected qualities, and let them reveal and manifest themselves for viewers.

Read more about Selva and her work at

About the Residency Program: As artistic practice occupies an increasingly pluralistic field, The International Museum of Surgical Science believes that artists are uniquely equipped to extrapolate on Museum collections in innovative ways and introduce novel perspectives to the institutional depiction of medical history. The IMSS Artist Residency Program provides working artists with:

  • Access to the Museum’s extensive collections and archive
  • Visibility on the Museum’s website and social media channels
  • A month-long capstone Solo Exhibition (or equivalent presentation) at the Museum

This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.