In 2011, inspired by a printed color atlas of histopathology, I began mining childhood memories and my family’s medical history, so I could present a series of portraits based on illnesses and medical conditions using microscopic views of cells, tissues and biological processes. I termed the pieces “histo-portraits” and combined scientific illustration and unconventional portraiture to represent the people in my life. I combed through medical journals and refereed scientific publications to find information and reference images. At the time, these intricate portrayals were in part a formal and intellectual exercise ⎯ exploring a visual confluence between micro- and macroscopic views of the world. I was interested in forms that initially appeared fractal or cosmic but were in fact a magnification of things invisible to the naked eye, things that had happened or were happening in the bodies of people I knew and loved.
In 2017, entrenched in a series involving fictive animals and scientific taxonomy, I lost my mother and considered dabbling again in histo-portraiture, thinking to explore the illnesses and afflictions she endured throughout her life and use the medical records of her final illness in my image making. In 2020, I very unexpectedly lost my younger sister. “Grief counseling,” the experts said, “therapy,” and “time will help you heal these wounds.” In the vacuous place that is grief, which seems to simultaneously collapse time and yet make it expand interminably and illogically, I have returned to histo-portraits. Now I am creating ink and charcoal from the ashes of my mother’s medical records, sorting through the tangible items my sister left behind that could become drawing media, trying to recreate the people I’ve lost. These new histo-portraits, works on paper, are a study of grief and human loss, my attempts to put these women back together and retroactively heal their illnesses through drawing.
Jenna Hannum is a Philadelphia-based artist and educational designer that has exhibited throughout Pennsylvania and nationally. Her work has been purchased for many private collections and has been included in numerous exhibitions, including exhibitions at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Woodmere Art Museum, and galleries throughout the United States. In 2011, she was a recipient of the NewCourtland Fellowship, a community-based fellowship that brings together care home residents and school-aged children through the Center for Emerging Visual Artists. Hannum completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, with a concentration in drawing.
1999 Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA BFA, Drawing Magna Cum Laude
Awards & Honors
2019 Meyer Family Award for Contemporary Art Finalist
2011 Center for Emerging Visual Artists, Philadelphia, PA Mid-Atlantic Fellowship, Recipient
2015 Brewer, Don, "Snowflake," Don Art News, February 14, 2015