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After Kicking Cancer, Kansas City Artist Nedra Bonds Shows Her Life's Work

C.J. Janovy
KCUR 89.3
Nedra Bonds in the lobby at the University of Kansas Cancer Center in December, with one of her recent quilt pieces.

Kansas City artist Nedra Bonds has just endured months of chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy to treat breast cancer.

Given all she's been through, the fact that she's opening a retrospective exhibition of her life's work (to date) might carry extra poignancy.

"That had not occurred to me," says Bonds, who appears to focus her energies more outward than inward, such as when she responded to her diagnosis last year with a community art project.

When EthnicArt gallery owner Ronald Chaney contacted her about doing a one-woman show, Bonds says she told him, "Ok, fine — I’ve got lots of work."

She's not sure which of her quilts will end up in the show, but curator Anna-Maria Kretzer had plenty to choose from.

"I've done a lot of group shows, but this is all me, so I just pulled out some of everything," Bonds says. "After 25 years of doing this, it all seems to come together."

When Bonds' nieces were recently in town from Washington, D.C., she says, they were struck by how some of her old pieces still feel relevant. For example, she says, 25 years ago she made a group of quilts dealing with women's issues.

Credit Courtesy Nedra Bonds
A piece by Nedra Bonds.

"I did a series of pieces about bathroom terrors – things women go through in the bathroom: leaving with toilet paper stuck to your heel, or your dress tucked into your panty hose. We don’t even wear panty hose anymore, but these were women’s issues 25 years ago that were funny. And now they’re talking about pussy hats."

Back then people told her she was crazy, Bonds says, "but we need to show it all again."

She also gave Chaney some work that's never been shown.

"I’m just happy to be able to show some of the things I’ve been thinking about over the years," Bonds says.

And as far as her health goes, Bonds says, "I'm good."

There’s no evidence of cancer in her body now, Bonds says, but her type of cancer was genetic, so she’ll have regular tests for the rest of her life. And because she had 26 lymph notes removed, she'll always have to wear a compression sleeve to keep her arm from swelling due to lymphedema. Her skin is also still healing from the radiation, which she likens to "a really bad sunburn."

As she did at the "Fuck Cancer" party that kicked off her "community art project" last April, she'll be encouraging people to talk about community issues during Friday's opening at EthnicArt.

And she's continuing to work with people in the community who are responding to post-election politics.

"My role is trying to encourage people: You can do something about it by doing whatever it is you do," she says, "and using your heart and not your head. People just have to hang together, hold each other up, not be judgmental, and we can get through it and create a wholeness."

Or, as she put it last year and says again: "Art heals."

Nedra Bonds: Quilt Artist, February 10 through March 10 at EthnicArt Gallery, 5930 Troost Avenue, 2nd Floor, Kansas City, Missouri, 64111; 816-399-8037. Opening reception 6-9 p.m. Friday, February 10, with an art talk at 7 p.m. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and by appointment.

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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