These are not pity-party hats. From the looks of these colorful and whimsical head coverings, it would appear that the pity party is over and that the empty ice cream containers and cried-into tissues have been thrown away. Whoever is wearing these cloches, chapeaux, bonnets and berets is holding her head high in the face of adversity.
On display at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif. through April 27 are 25 hats made by the members Plexus Art Group for one of their own— Roni Mentzer, who is battling a recurrence of breast cancer. “I’m going to lose my hair again when the chemotherapy starts,” Mentzer told her 12 fellow artists. “Those hats and uncomfortable wigs are so boring. Let’s create works of art. Let’s show the world beauty!”
The members (twelve women and one man) of this San Francisco Bay Area artists’ group embraced the challenge, as they have other projects that address social and political concerns that affect them and their community. Their exhibitions aim to raise awareness, as well as funds to support like-minded organizations.
“The Hat Show” — also referred to as “Hats Off to Roni” —collection was purchased by private art collectors, and the proceeds of the sale were donated to Zero Breast Cancer, a local non-profit organization that focuses on identifying environmental factors in the development of breast cancer. The hats are kept at the ZBC offices and travel to various display venues around the Bay Area.
Some of the hats appear to be more works of art than wardrobe toppers, though others make for practical headgear. All convey a very specific message of love and support to Mentzer. Jennifer Kim Sohn’s “Veiled,” made of ultra-soft baby blue, pink and white handmade felt, and looking like a jellyfish with long tentacles, aims to wrap Mentzer’s head and cradle it like an infant. Stuart Wagner’s “Battle Gear,” on the other hand, conveys a very different sentiment with its baseball cap made of steel sporting a symbolic pink breast cancer ribbon loop.
Juline Beier made for her friend a bright blue stocking cap adorned with dozens of colorful buttons attached to the fabric with those plastic things that hold price tags on clothing. If only we could tear cancer cells out of us as easily as it is to yank a price tag off a new purchase. Beier also made for her friend a seemingly Devo-inspired “Gladiator Hat” constructed from dark grey foamy insulation tubing, and an attention-grabbing, molded straw number reminiscent of the silhouette of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Marla Brill’s “Prayer,” a lacey cap made of white hospital bracelets turns the in-patient experience into a fashion show. “Genesis,” an upside-down flower with petals of copper and brass mesh suggests that renewed life — and hair — can sprout from a barren scalp.
All the hats enchant, be they made from downy feathers, coiled metal filings, bamboo fiber, or a re-purposed sequined blouse and belt, as is the one Mentzer herself designed.
These hats turn the cancer-patient experience on its head. Women who lose their hair to chemotherapy usually seek hats, scarves and wigs to hide their baldness. But Mentzer and any other woman who might wear these works of art are doing anything but covering up. Far from concealing their condition, they are drawing attention to themselves and to the need for a continued search for a cure.
They are ready to celebrate life, and they are dressing up for the party.