MARY BETH HEFFERNAN is a Los Angeles-based artist whose work explores the interplay of corporeality and images. She is Professor of Sculpture, Photography and Interdisciplinary Art at Occidental College. Heffernan earned her BFA at Boston University in 1987, graduating Magna Cum Laude and awarded the Kahn Career Entry Award. She earned her MFA in the Photography Program at the California Institute of the Arts in 1994, and appointed a Studio Fellow of the Whitney Independent Study Program 1994-95.

“I use a broad range of media and different modes of address; the work is united by abiding questions about physicality and representation: How are bodies transcribed into photographs, scans or algorithms? How do pictures literally and figuratively change our bodies and our relationship with others? How and when does language take on physical force?  What are the gaps and failures of language to translate the complexities of the physical world, daily labor, bodily experience, and, more broadly, ourselves as subjects?”

Heffernan’s 2014 social practice PPE Portrait Project to humanize the frightening protective gear worn by Ebola workers in Liberia garnered international recognition on NPRPRI, the BBC the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hyperallergic,  CSNBC and many other publications. The project was also featured in Tiffany Schlain’s 2015 film The Adaptable Mind. The PPE Portrait Project was cited as an exemplary art and medicine collaboration in The Academies of Sciences-Engineering-Medicine Consensus Report of 2018, and featured in the 2019 permanent exhibition, Being Human, at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The PPE Portrait Project is currently enhancing COVID care in the US and abroad; Heffernan is partnering with nearly a dozen medical centers to adopt the project, including Stanford Medical School, USC-Keck Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, UMASS and Providence St. Joseph, among others. Heffernan’s art-medicine COVID collaborations are reviewed in Hyperallergic and Smithsonian Magazine, and featured on CNN, CBSN/Boston, and KIRO Seattle.

Awarded the inaugural 2016-17 PAC/LA Contemporary Artist Grant as Artist-in-Residence at The Huntington Library where she queried the purpose and meaning of an 18th c. anatomy textbook bound in human skin. In 2010, Heffernan was awarded the COLA Master Artist Fellowship. Her work has been supported by grants from Photographic Arts Council LA,  the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs,  Durfee Foundation and Light Work.

Heffernan’s art is included in numerous private and public collections, including The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, the Hammer Museum/Grunwald Center Collection, Light Work of Syracuse, NY, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York City Library and the Royal College of Nursing-Great Britain Archive.

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