Maureen Cummins, “The/rapist”

Right: title page of book. Left: Burnished aluminum box that houses the book.

Page 5, showing laser-cut hole boring through patient head-shot.

Page 10, showing headshot and typographical excerpt from Freeman textbook.

Page 2, showing headshot and decorative illustrations.

Page 1-4 fanned out for display.


Maureen Cummins (Bearsville, NY)

silkscreen on laser-cut aluminum plates
Edition of 40
16 pages
24” x 9” x 1” open
12” x 9” x 1″ closed

The/rapist is an investigation into the dark and gendered history of psychosurgery, as exemplified by the career of Doctor Walter Freeman (1895-1972), a professor of neurology who single-handedly popularized the pre-frontal lobotomy in America. Although he had no formal training in either surgery or psychology, Freeman drove ice picks through his patients’ eye sockets, rode around in a “lobotomobile,” and conducted a 1953 tour dubbed “Operation Ice-Pick,” all the while freely admitting that lobotomies created a “surgically induced childhood” with many “failed outcomes.”

It is a history which raises numerous questions about patients’ rights, the abuse of institutional power, and the disproportionate targeting of women. Of 3,500 or more patients that Freeman operated on, twice as many were female, many depressed or suicidal housewives.

In the opening pages of the book, Cummins uses physical rape as an analogy for neurological penetration, a form of sexualized violence that was perpetuated for decades in the name of medical progress. The concept is visually reinforced by a laser-cut hole that bores through the pages of the book, penetrating reproduced images of lobotomy patients’ heads and morphing the title “The Rapist” into “Therapist.” The headshots, before-and-after” photos used in Freeman’s textbook, are re-contextualized, with lines of typography serving as blindfolds, reclaiming for these women a measure of dignity, humanity, and anonymity. Throughout the book, the artist’s mordant sense of humor is in evidence: 19th century engravings illustrate the backsides of the plates, providing decorative and ironic counters to the subject matter, often—as with the moon, the sunburst and the encircling question marks—cleverly incorporating the holes. The name Freeman splits up into “Free Man,” while arrows, pointing fingers, images of Freeman’s ice picks, and excerpted notes and typography act as illustrations.