Most know Sam VanBibber as a local artist and, until last year, owner of Westheimer vintage clothing store Wear It Again, Sam.
But she is also a breast cancer survivor.
VanBibber was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Soon after, she started a blog, Lifeisshortdancefast, to share her trials with others. At the suggestion of her doctor, she quit her job, so friends rallied around, throwing a "We Love Sam" benefit to raise funds for treatments.
One of those treatments was a mastectomy. Left with hundreds of bras, she gave ten away to friends. They in turn gave back by turning the bras into pieces of art and putting them up for silent auction along with others at the Second Annual Brazarre, held this past weekend at G Gallery in the Heights.
"It's a show and sale of 'artful bras,'" said event coordinator Vicki Eaker. Think gallery exhibit meets Victoria's Secret, with proceeds that go to the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life Greater Heights at the forefront.
"[The bras are] made by survivors or people going through cancer," said Heather O'Connor, an event volunteer and close friend of Eaker's.
It was standing room only at the gallery as guests, including representatives from the American Cancer Society, listened to music by local band Westbound and ate food from Liberty Kitchen as they quietly bid on pieces that started at 25 dollars and increased in ten-dollar increments.
Despite the fact that the bras had been whimsically fashioned into new shapes and painted bright colors, and despite the cheery atmosphere, it was hard not to feel solemn when looking at them and the stories on the walls behind them.
"Boobflies Garden," an aptly named piece made up of "fabric, paint, glue, foam board, crystal beads, wire, small pink silk flowers, three bras of various size and an antique picture frame" and created by Sgt. MaxAnette Rose-Mendoza, looked at first like a garden of red, orange and yellow bra butterflies. But with Rose-Mendoza's inspiration, her "mum," noted nearby, it began to look like a resting place for those who had lost the battle with breast cancer. The pretty little doll inside the pearl-like shell of "It's What's Inside That Counts," Janie Marek Harper's bra of porcelain and found objects, became an oxymoronic representation of the ugliness of a tumor.
Taken from a optimistic point of view, Eric Harker's "Mammary Warfare," a bra covered in lexan glass and affixed to an acrylic on canvas painting, took the fight against cancer from an impermeable obstacle to a tangible bull's-eye. So did "American Brazarre," a red, white and blue bra that transformed cancer from a solo hell into a patriotic, we're-all-in-this-together effort.
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Which brought us back to VanBibber. Not only did her friends contribute those bras she had given them to the Brazarre -- her friend Robin Kirby created a victorious "Screw Cancer," polyester resin-coated bra -- in celebration of being cancer-free, VanBibber also gave her own contributions to the event, one of them being a camouflage-covered bra entitled "Battle Uniform." Like the rest of the bras, the up-front quirkiness of VanBibber's creation was humbled by both the military gear surrounding it and its accompanying description.
"When you go through breast cancer," the description next to her bra read, "you feel like you are fighting a battle, a battle to just get to the next step in this long, arduous treatment...My bra represents the warrior by the camouflage and the zippers to make it easier to cover up part of what we have left of our most intimate parts of our body."
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