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Painting a picture of mitochondrial disease

Personal stories Awareness

6 June 2024

We know mitochondrial disease inspires incredible bravery in patients and their families, dedicated fundraising in our supporters and pioneering work in the research lab. But this is the first time we’ve seen the disease inspire the conception of a beautiful piece of art.

A woman stands next to a piece of artwork hanging on a wall Close-up of a blue and gold piece of artwork A piece of artwork with shades of blue and gold thread hanging on a wall

The visually striking artwork, entitled ‘Feeling the Way’, was created by Kelly Briggs, an emerging artist based in Cambridge. After exhibiting the piece, she then sold it to a collector in Geneva and has kindly donated half the proceeds of the sale to The Lily Foundation.

The mixed media piece was the result of a project called ART – TRAnslations, with around 20 artists translating the experience of a rare disease into an art piece. It was displayed at the recent Translating Science Through Art exhibition, a collaboration between LifeArc, a self-funded, non-profit medical research organisation, and the Cambridge Rare Disease Network.

Visionary artist Kelly worked with Heather Biggs, Research Project Manager at Cambridge University’s Clinical Mitochondrial Research Group (MitoCAMB), to bring the piece to life. After many months of research and consideration, Kelly created an interactive tactile map that illustrates the intricate challenges around getting a mitochondrial disease diagnosis. It’s a fresh perspective on a topic that will resonate with many in the mito community.

The piece is roughly shaped like a mitochondrial DNA, and layers of paint, gold leaf and thread are woven into the canvas to stunning effect, reflecting the complexities of the diagnostic journey so many patients have endured.

Kelly learnt the technique of embroidery to interweave bold threads with contrasting thin ones, and these create a metaphor for the uncertainty so many patients face during misdiagnoses. Interruptions in the embroidered lines symbolise the gaps in healthcare information around mitochondrial disorders and the disconcerting nature of the disease’s symptoms.

She was particularly moved by the affect mitochondrial disease can have on vision, and that inspired the artwork’s tactile nature. It invites people to close their eyes and feel their way around the map with their fingertips as a way of connecting with the daily struggles of those living with the symptoms of this devastating condition.

With deep roots in Cambridge, Kelly works in print, painting and sculpture to explore the connections between art and science, and is influenced by the wealth of pioneering research taking place in her home town. She’s currently working on a second piece inspired by mitochondrial disease which she hopes will be publicly exhibited in the area towards the end of the year.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Kelly, who has not only increased awareness of the inherited condition by creating the stunning artwork, but has then donated £1000 from its sale directly to The Lily Foundation. “It seemed like a natural step to donate some of the money from the project to The Lily Foundation,” she said. “It’s rare to sell a piece like this, especially when it’s so personal and complex. I’m so happy it’s worked out and it feels like the right thing to do.”

Thank you, Kelly! What a generous gesture, and one that will help us to continue the fight against mitochondrial disease.


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