Here’s Something Better To Do With Those Crappy Old Bras

22 03 2009

This is kind of old news, but I just saw it for the first time and thought it was too awesome to not post on the blog.  Emily Duffy, a female artist, has created an immense ball of bras.  The ball was finished on August 24, 2003 at the Final BraBall Roll-on in San Francisco.  And this thing is MASSIVE.  The BraBall consists of 18,085 bras.  It stands five feet tall, and weighs more than 1,800 pounds.


But why would Duffy want to create a ball of people’s old bras?  Duffy’s sculpture is as much a collection of personal stories as an expression of female solidarity and strength.  As the artist says in her statement on the BraBall website:

The surprising size of the BraBall (now over half its goal, the height of the average American woman – five feet, four inches tall), the overwhelming quantity of bras, and the incredible density of the piece catches people off guard and hopefully challenges their assumptions about women’s bodies. Our bodies are solid and strong like the sculpture, not wispy and frail like the bras it’s made of.

As I began building the BraBall, hooking bras end-to-end, winding them layer upon layer, it couldn’t help but reflect other circular shapes; it resembles a globe, an egg, an ovary, a seedpod, a cell, and of course a breast. The sphere is an elemental shape, one of the building blocks of art as well as life. As the bras are linked together, each is like a page in the sculpture’s story. A single bra represents a moment in the life of the woman who donated it. It’s a portrait of how she was at a particular time, age, and shape. The amazing variety of bras and the differences in wear and strain of their fabric shows how unique each woman’s body is.

Breasts are often a source of conflicting emotions for women. Our personal body experiences are rarely reflected in media images we see. A woman may feel ashamed, proud, annoyed, and sexual about her breasts during just one menstrual cycle, or even a single day. Almost every woman has a bra story to tell. Some are traumatic, others joyful. A first bra is one of our culture’s rites of passage for women, yet it’s often a secret, mumbled between teenaged girls and their mothers in store dressing rooms.

Using bras as an art medium (something I’ve been doing for several years now) is a way of disrupting some of the longstanding taboos surrounding them. Interweaving stained nursing bras with provocative, augmentation bras somehow balances the distorted images of women’s bodies. It reconciles the narrow stereotypes of virgin and whore and fills in the true definitions of women that are missing in between. We’re old and young, tall and short, thin and plump, rich and poor, straight and gay, famous and anonymous, and every racial background imaginable. The BraBall includes artists’ bras, postal workers’ bras, lawyers’ bras, mothers’ bras, secretaries’ bras, students’ bras, and even exotic dancers’ bras. The bras, made of satin, silk, cotton, or nylon, run the full color spectrum and range of print designs: floral, polka dot, even cartoon characters or signs of the zodiac.

The bras have been donated by women around the world, and thousands of women sent personalized letters to Duffy with the donation.  The uniqueness of each bra’s stains and patterns seem to tell its story.  The center of the sculpture contains a time capsule containing a variety of personal items.  The items are:  documentation about Duffy’s dispute with another artist who tried to rip off her idea, one of the artist’s own bras, a scalpel, a replica of the Venus of Willendorf, documentation of the artist’s best friend’s battle with breast cancer, a breast cancer ribbon pin, and a broken, red glass heart in a box.  The last item is a piece from a therapy session that the artist had years earlier about being a survivor of incest.

In many ways, the BraBall is a metaphor.  “It is a physical manifestation of the way women support each other,” says Duffy.  The sheer mass of the structure is awe-inspiring and empowering.  Like the bras, thousands of women came together to create this structure.  

Even the creation of the sculpture was in many ways a group effort.  At the BraBall world premiere, March 22, 2001, women joined together in a sort of dance, dozens of volunteers helped assemble the BraBall.  On March 8, 2002, in honor of International Women’s Day, the artist organized The BraBall Roll-On in Kensington, California.  All of the bra-donors from the area were invited.  More than 300 women attended.  For four hours, the women worked on the BraBall together.


The beauty of the BraBall lies in its simplicity, its diversity, its symbol of unity, and the sheer strength it represents.  The proceeds from BraBall’s success have gone to benefit charities including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

As of 2005, the BraBall has settled at its permanent home at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.




2 responses

31 03 2009

This is so cool! We should do one of these at Tufts!

6 09 2009

Such great sculpture……… amazing work

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