Museum Exhibit Encourages Touching the Art to Feel Signs of Breast Cancer

Classic paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Rafael all had hidden red flags

Don't touch the artwork is the first rule of any museum. Imagine visiting an exhibit where touching is not only encouraged, it's the basis of the entire display?

"The Art of Self Examination" was displayed in the Hispanic American Museum of Art Isaac Fernández Blanco in Buenos Aires. It's the latest collaboration from David Buenos Aires and MACMA, an Argentinian-based breast cancer nonprofit.

The campaign is based on an article from The Lancet magazine, plus the work of Dr. Liliana Sosa, who noted that models in Rembrandt's Bathsheba Holding King David's Letter, Rubens' The Three Graces and Rafael's La Fornarina showed potential signs of breast cancer.

After hundreds of years and countless eyes on these masterpieces, possible signs of illness were hiding in plain sight.

The agency worked with Dr. Sosa to recreate these masterpieces so attendees could touch the paintings and feel the signs of breast cancer—lumps, skin retraction and swollen lymph nodes—on the art. For one week, visitors could learn the warning signs of breast cancer by touching three paintings.

Earlier this year, DDB Peru created a similar campaign for League Against Cancer that focused on early detection of prostate and testicular cancers. Held at Larco Museum in Peru, visitors were encouraged to touch replicas of erotic huacos (a pre-Columbian term for handicrafts), created by the Moche culture.

The Art Of Self Examination | Macma

Muse spoke with Ignacio Flotta and Nicolas Vara, executive creative directors at David Buenos Aires, about recreating centuries-old masterpieces, securing a museum for the exhibit, and where the paintings will go next.

Muse: How did you come up with the idea?

Ignacio Flotta and Nicolas Vara: The creative idea was based on a piece published in the British medical journal The Lancet and on the work of Dr. Liliana Sosa, who collaborated in the project, in which graphic signs of a possible breast cancer were detected in the breasts of models portrayed in Rembrandt, Rubens and Rafael's pieces. The idea was to carry out an exhibition, where the visitors could experience, through touching three different pieces, the symptoms of a possible breast cancer.

How long did it take to recreate the art in a more tactile way? 

Over a month, the pieces were recreated together with Dr. Liliana Sosa, who led a group of producers who very carefully followed every suggestion she made to find the best way to describe and bring to life the possible symptoms of breast cancer. Different materials were tested until we found the right ones, in order to achieve scientific accuracy.

It's important to communicate that self-examination is an important exercise for early detection of breast cancer, but not the only one. Doctor appointments and mammograms are essential to diagnose breast cancer on time and have more chances of recovery.

Was the museum immediately on board?

Once we told the idea to the Fernández Blanco Museum, they were absolutely interested in giving us the space to carry out the exhibition. It's not every day one receives an idea for an exhibition that not only has an interesting story to tell, but also helps women in a concrete way with the early detection of breast cancer. 

Were there any challenges in creating the campaign? 

The biggest challenge was to overcome the two years of the pandemic in which museums were closed. This exhibition was scheduled to take place just when the pandemic started globally, and we had to wait for museums to reopen in order to reschedule it.

Where will the pieces go, post-exhibit? 

The pieces are currently at MACMA’s offices. And there are many museums inland that are interested in hosting the exhibition at a national level.

How many people interacted with the exhibit? 

In total, more than 10,000 people went to the museum to see the exhibition. 


Agency: DAVID Buenos Aires 
Campaign: The Art of Self Examination 
Client: Macma  
Global CCO: Pancho Cassis 
Global COO: Sylvia Panico 
Global PR Director: Sandra Azedo 
Regional MD: Emanuel Abeijon 
ECD: Nicolas Vara, Ignacio Flotta 
CD: Emiliano Adam, Nicolas Rudy 
Copywriter: Juan Pablo Tyrer 
Art Director: Johann Hotz 
Head of Production: Jimena Oliva
Producer: Agustina Perez Ponce 
General Account Director: Justina Lioy Lupis 
Account Director: Maria Giaimo 
Account Supervisor: Eugenia Iglesias 
Strategist: Federico Yalal Massud 
Production Company: POSTER 
Director: Dana Campanello 
Executive Producer: Mariano Echarri 
Art Director: Alicia Vázquez 
Photo: Romina Ferreyra 
Client Approval: Irene Marcet, Marta Mattiussi, Susana Gentile, Elba Torrado (RRPP), Paola Albornoz (Communis), María Paula Castillo 

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