portrait of veronica – new work

I don’t talk about this too much (if at all) but I do believe all of our organs are in constant communication with each other…and with us. Well…they’re not really separate from us. Nor are we separate from our environment…nor from each other.


As many times as I’ve drawn the skeletal system, I feel I should have it memorized by now. I don’t. Every body is unique.

Next month will be 4 years since Veronica had bariatric surgery.

I still have the x-ray she sent me of her stomach, post surgery.  I didn’t (and still don’t) recognize the organ though I recognized surrounding tissue. Within minutes of her sending the photo, my cousin and I were on the phone talking. I was surprised (and still am) to learn they’d removed 3/4 of her stomach. I remember 2 thoughts (I kept to myself): How is it possible? And what about the vagus nerve?! I still wonder about the latter.

That evening she told me about the numerous health complications being overweight can cause including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart failure. And we know obesity can lead to a number of cancers. I recall Veronica saying she was on the cusp of becoming diabetic.

She spoke about the side effects of her surgery as well as possible future complications including lockjaw and osteoporosis. Ouch! Is it worth the risk? She responded with a definitive Yes!

Not only was she concerned about her health, she also didn’t like the way she looked. It’s not me! It’s not me! 

Veronica used to call me because she was studying art history. We talked art. With this one phone call I learned a lot about my cousin. I’m sure neither of us imagined a study coming from the conversation. Though I did hold on to the x-ray.

Composition layout.

Fast forward to early this summer…
I mention in an earlier post, a meeting with Dr. Joe Alcock whose area of research is the microbiome. I tell him I want to learn more/work the subject. I’m thinking Microbiome 101 or a…let me introduce you to…sort of composition. Instead he suggests a focus on the obesity aspect.

Putting something into context is really the best way to learn.

Did I mention Veronica is almost done with school? And if things go her way,  she’ll be a surgical technician in the field of bariatrics. On a recent visit to El Paso, we set time aside to meet.  We talk and then I photograph and outline her.

Once again, she shares with me how it felt to be in a heavy body.  And then she moves on to describe the changes since the surgery; her feet are smaller and no more snoring. She happily notes her participation in kickboxing, cross-fit and yoga. I  ran! A 5K!  She has no regrets.

She tells me about the soda she occasionally allows herself. I have to be careful. Carbonation, she explains, expands the stomach. Yes, she’s gained back some of the weight.

What do you miss? What was your favorite (crave) food? Macaroni and cheese, Mexican style, canned milk, tomato sauce, butter and lots of cheese. This detail makes its way into the study.

What influences your food choices? Could it be microbes?

The plan includes a portrait of Veronica while I/you learn more about gut microbes and their link to obesity. (I’ve had a curiosity about microbes and auto-immune diseases for a good while.)

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines obesity as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 95 million adults (in the USA) live with obesity (47.0% are Hispanic, 46.8% non-Hispanic black, 37.9% are non-Hispanic whites and 12.7% non Hispanic Asians).


Joe connected with me during a time when my work was at Sky Harbor Airport.  We finally met in person during the run of my solo exhibition at the UofA medical school. He introduced me to the human microbiome. And because he comes from an evolutionary  medicine background, I am understanding the idea of adaptation, especially where health and disease are concerned. Joe believes fat has a defense function. It helps prevent bacteria from invading us. Obesity has more to do with our bodies relationship to the microbial world.

I have come to the conclusion that microbes are responsible for everything!

Did I mention I feel like I am in over my head…a good sign.

Joe Alcock has a podcast I access directly via SoundCloud → EvolutionMedicine. 
He has several episodes on the topic of obesity. The format usually includes a conversation between him and a colleague.  For me, this sort of back and forth talk makes the complicated stuff a little more accessible.


©2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

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