Bjerke’s book on going through a devastating medical procedure

Book Review: Hidden Agenda

by Doug E. L. Haynes

When I first met Madison artist Carol Bjerke she was showing a series of allegorical photographs of rowboats and life preservers. She used the photos to illustrate her experience of hanging onto life as she went through cancer treatment. The series were thoughtfully assembled with interesting juxtapositions and manipulations of image. I was impressed by her imaginative uses of the camera.

During a recent visit to her home and studio, I was introduced to Bjerke’s recently published book Hidden Agenda. This book contains art and essays which present Bjerke’s experience of going through another devastating medical procedure; one that left her quality of life greatly diminished.

Bjerke’s artworks relate her plight with such precision, that it is easy to imagine what it would be like to be in her position. While her suffering is described, the attitude with which it is related is not self pity, but rather an incisive, witty commentary which is designed to overturn complacency within the medical community and spur change. In my estimation Carol’s book will shake up the medical community and draw attention to what she rightly calls an “uncivilized practice”. I can also imagine that creating these works and publishing this book would be an enormous relief for someone who had been suffering out of view of others.

In some way or another, each of us has a story to tell. Carol’s story is well told and worth hearing.