Rei’s ‘war paint’ body art shines a light on underdiagnosed disease which affects 1 in 10 this Endometriosis Action Month
An Ashton woman who battled nine years for an endometriosis diagnosis has bared all to raise awareness of the hidden and devastating condition – and the resulting images are now on show at Gallery Oldham.
Despite experiencing constant and severe pelvic and abdominal pain, Rei Maycock, said she was repeatedly told there was nothing visibly wrong and sent away with mild pain relief.
Rei, 27, who works for the NHS in a non-medical role, said since the age of 16 she had lived with extremely painful periods and as time went on, the agony continued throughout the month.
When Rei was eventually offered a laparoscopy – keyhole surgery with a camera – in 2019, the surgeon said the damage to her pelvic organs caused by the disease made it look as though she was ‘filled with superglue’.
With essential follow up surgery then delayed for two years by the pandemic, Rei ended up on a daily cocktail of medication, including antidepressants, HRT, codeine and morphine.
Finally, in August last year, Rei was called up for her operation, which took 7.5 hours. A team of surgeons at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester removed all of the endometriosis, along with six inches of Rei’s bowel that were unsalvageable.
She says recovery from the surgery was ‘rough’, but that she now feels like a new person.
In the hope of raising awareness of the condition and the impact it has on the lives of over 1.5 million people in the UK, Rei signed up to take part in a project called Endomorphosis for Endometriosis Action Month.
The creative venture, run by Mossley’s Cabasa Carnival Arts, saw ten women from Greater Manchester who are living with endometriosis turn their bodies into canvases. The women, aged between 21 and 39, worked with body painters to translate their feelings about endometriosis into a living artwork.
Emily Wood, 40, is the organisation’s artistic director and also has endometriosis.
She said: “Your whole body goes through so much and for me it led to negative thoughts and feelings about my body that became detrimental to my mental health and well-being.
“Endometriosis is a whole-body disease, both physically and mentally, so I wanted to create a project which represented that. By delivering this project myself as an artist and painting a group of women who have been on a similar journey and seeing them transform was even more powerful than I could have imagined
“We have brought together a group of incredible women with endometriosis and local artists as part of Endometriosis Action Month. In these collaborative sessions, participants shared their experiences and explored how body painting could best represent them and their stories.
“We finished the project with a day of body painting and captured some amazing and powerful images, which participants can hold onto forever.”
Rei said: “I initially decided to get involved as body painting sounded like a fun experience. I welcomed the opportunity to get to know other people with endometriosis and to help raise awareness of the condition.
“It was daunting at first to take my kit off as I’d only met everyone involved once before, but once we’d ripped off the bandaid it felt completely natural. Everyone was talking and laughing and there was no awkwardness around being undressed, it was just a fun experience we were all sharing.
“The photos are very powerful to look at. I think they really captured the emotions of people suffering from endometriosis. My pictures made me feel very strong and really brought to mind the moniker of “endo warrior”. My war paint shows the battle I face every day against my own body and against the ignorance and lack of knowledge about this disease.”
This March, Cabasa Carnival Arts will be working with a second group of people living with endometriosis to create a further series of images. The body art will be captured by photographer Sharon Latham at The Vale in Mossley. You can find out how to get involved on Cabasa’s website.
Endometriosis causes cells similar to the ones in the lining of the womb to be found elsewhere in the body. Each month these cells react in the same way to those in the womb, building up and then breaking down and bleeding. Unlike the cells in the womb that leave the body as a period, this blood has no way to escape and causes pain, scarring and inflammation. Symptoms can include chronic pain, fatigue, painful intercourse and infertility.
An inquiry published in 2020 found that it takes on average eight years from the onset of symptoms to get a diagnosis.
Endomorphosis is at Gallery Oldham (Gallery 4) until 25 March 2023. Entry is free and opening hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm