Display of Pain
One month before my college closed for Covid, a friend and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. They had taken advantage of the free admission our student IDs gave us many a time and were intimately familiar with the museum’s layout. So when we came to the Hyman Bloom exhibit, they knew what was coming. “This gallery freaks me out,” they told me with a literal shiver. “It feels like it’s haunted.”
I couldn’t disagree, but that was part of why I loved it.
Everything in the exhibit looked so raw. The subjects of his work looked like they were in pain, and if they weren’t in pain, they were dead already: X-rays of skeletons cut into pieces, dismembered through paper; a man sketched in red pencil being flayed, his taut stomach muscles rendered in their true color; a painting of a body ripped apart to the bone.
But it was Bloom’s Self Portrait (1948) that was the most disturbing and fascinating to me. It depicted a body in pain beyond recognition facing away from the viewer, only its back visible, skin completely torn away exposing ribs. It was internal suffering made external, and something about it felt incredibly vulnerable to me. Vulnerability comes from the Latin word vulnerare meaning “to wound.” You give others the opportunity to hurt you and pray they care instead. Here was someone who had been hurt before and was opening up those wounds with the possibility of more pain but doing it regardless.
I wanted to give him a hug.
Now, writing this in a time when even hugs can end in death, I want to be haunted by someone else. I want them to open up to me and I want to open in turn. I want to crawl inside them and find a home under their skin and have them find a home in me. I want to find peace in our shared pain.
Ana Hein is an undergraduate student at Emerson College pursuing a BFA in creative writing with minors in comedy writing and performance and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.
Hyman Bloom (1913-2009) was born in Latvia, but came to the United States in 1920. He received a scholarship for gifted students from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in eighth grade. Bloom was associated with the abstract expressionist movement. His first exhibit was in 1942 in the Museum of Modern Art. He continued to create art until his death at the age of 96.