About the Traveling Mural

Who Holds The Mirror? Breast Cancer, Women's Lives And The Environment"
is a nationally traveling mural used to educate, and inspire action and dialogue about women's and community health, environmental and social justice. The mural seeks to make visible the sometimes invisible connections between breast cancer and numerous issues including:

Social and environmental justice

Community and women’s activism

Immigrant rights

Sexual and personal identity

Body image and self-esteem

Traditional and non-traditional understandings of health and healing

The politics of health care and research

Who Holds The Mirror? : Women Create Knowledge

Who Holds the Mirror? originated from women who participated in the Breast Cancer Oral History Action Project (BCOHAP) in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1995, the BCOHAP, a health, literacy and community action research organization, trained a diverse group of women to gather and share the multilingual oral histories of underserved women with breast cancer --- voices that were not usually included in personal accounts of breast cancer.

Beth Sauerhaft, adult educator and BCOHAP founder, began a collaboration with a culturally and linguistically diverse group of women who attended a literacy and English As A Second Language program to improve their skills. Beth designed and facilitated a weekly literacy class in which the women were trained as ‘action researchers’ --- investigating breast cancer and related environmental, political, medical, cultural and spiritual issues. In their native Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and English, they interviewed medically underserved, low-income women and women of color with breast cancer.

Low-income women, with limited English literacy --- disproportionately women of color --- have a higher mortality rate and die more quickly once diagnosed with breast cancer than more affluent women. They also are disproportionately exposed to the dumping of dangerous chemicals and toxins in their communities --- substances linked to the causes of breast cancer and other cancers and illnesses.

Drawing on the themes in the powerful oral histories and in their training, the ‘action researchers’ generated ideas for Who Holds the Mirror? in collaboration with famed international muralist Miranda Bergman. "I took the ideas and images they wanted and came up with the design of a single breast to hold all of them together" says Miranda of her role as co-creator and painter of the mural. Most of the faces in the mural are of BCOHAP action researchers, breast cancer survivors, health educators and activists.

Who Holds the Mirror? affirms the individual and collective power of underserved women to be leaders in creating the knowledge and tools to educate their communities about the preventable environmental links to cancer --- and to hold the mirrors that reflect the multiple realities of their lives.

“When I see the mural, I feel proud of what we’ve done. It is very powerful for me to see all of the women in the mural, because they were willing to share their painful experiences with us. They helped me to open my eyes to the dangers of the chemicals we are exposed to in our environment. The most powerful part of the mural for me is seeing the women who lost their breasts --- and seeing images of my culture.”
- Maria Nakata, Action Researcher with the BCOHAP June 21, 1997, from her speech at the mural dedication in Oakland, California.