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A Different Kind of Different

An animated film exploring the personal narratives of female breast-cancer survivors

Funded by the WellcomeTrust, with additional support from the Royal College of Art, Matt’s Gallery, London, and the Nerve Center, Derry, Jordan Baseman’s project A Different Kind of Different is currently at the research and development stage. 

The animation, A Different Kind of Different aims to create a greater awareness of the psychological impact of disfigurement and post-surgical trauma, with particular reference to the wearing of mastectomy tattoos by people with breast cancer. These issues are explored through the experimental, hand-drawn, animated, adult-oriented cartoon, titled, A Different Kind of DifferentA Different Kind of Different features the cartoon character Alicia, who, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, undergoes double-mastectomy surgery, declines breast reconstruction and instead adorns her chest with a tattoo – camouflaging, decorating her surgical/radiation scars and marking her survival. 

A Different Kind of Different discusses Alicia’s psychological journey: from cancer diagnosis, radiation treatment, surgery, disfigurement, post-surgical trauma, and ultimately to her present state of wellness, a state that is underpinned by the development and wearing of her mastectomy tattoo. With great insight and humor, Alicia reflects on the meanings of what happens to her, allowing us, the audience, an insight into her psychological states, from un-wellbeing to wellbeing as she makes her way through breast cancer in the narrative. 

Mastectomy tattoos can be seen to exist as a visual manifestation of wellness, a declaration of psychological self-possession: without reference or allegiance to any existing mainstream tattoo culture. The meanings and locations of these tattoos are powerful responses that simultaneously physically, visually, mark the passing of trauma and of a survival of breast cancer, while creating a unique visual response to disfigurement.  

The script for A Different Kind of Different is based on interviews with 11 wearers of mastectomy tattoos; the celebrated tattooist Mary Jane Haake; Professor Margot Mifflin, City University of New York; Dr John Troyer, University of Bath; and Dr Gemma Angel, University of Oxford, who share an expertise in the importance of tattoos historically and within contemporary culture. The Clinical Health Psychologist, Dr Becky Coles-Gale who works across Major Trauma and Critical Care Services for the NHS in East Sussex, has also played a major role in the development of the script for the animation. The script is written by Jordan Baseman with Sally O’Reilly. 

Most of the characters in A Different Kind of Different are based on children’s and adolescent’s drawings, reflecting the oft-cited feeling of helplessness that a breast cancer diagnosis can create in people.