Blik op Grote Zaal, detail van Niels Helmink, September 29 (Lambdaprint, 2009-2014) Blik op Grote Zaal, detail van Niels Helmink, September 29 (Lambdaprint, 2009-2014)

Tot Zover

Malicious Beauty. Cancer captured by art.

In the images that surround us, illness does not exist. Loss of hair, hyperplasia and decay are far from glamorous. In Malicious Beauty artists shape their experiences with cancer. Is there beauty to be found in the depiction of their experiences? Something that can strengthen us?



Cancer affects us all. In The Netherlands 45.000 people die of cancer each year, which makes it the most prominent cause of death. One in three Dutch people will suffer this illness at some point in their lives. Even more people know someone with the illness. The impact on the patient and his environment is enormous. However, the imagination of this impact rarely reaches us.

Life and pain

Seven renowned artists from the east of the country take their own experiences as a starting point. They have (had) cancer themselves, or it concerned their partner or close relative. They use different media to portray a multitude of stories. We learn about their grief and their struggles. We look at the process they underwent, at the existential questions that arose.

Hair, diorama & royal child

During Kim Tielemans treatment of breast cancer she photographed the tufts of hair that left her head over 11 days. It became a poignant installation of 124 photos on the wall in a tight grid. She also displays Hope, a truly ethereal 'breastscape' of bodily changes during therapy and reconstruction. In a steampunk-like diorama with a dreamy image, Wout Herfkens reflects on the death of his brother, with whom communication during his illness was problematic. Rinke Nijburg made paintings with a royal child looking down on figures with large tumours, as part of oeuvre of the fictional character A.K. Is something being exorcised here?

Image of cancer

Tot Zover breaks the silence in the visual arts about cancer. By showing intimate and normally invisible stories, Malicious Beauty contributes to the emancipation of the sick body. A small adjustment of the collective image that people have of cancer and the cancer patient. Or are we afraid to be curious?

Participating artists

Esther van Casteren, Sylvia Evers, Niels Helmink, Wout Herfkens, Sonja Hillen, Rinke Nijburg, Kim Tieleman


Concept and curation: Sonja Hillen en Kim Tieleman
Final accountability: Guus Sluiter
Exhibition design: Laura Cramwinckel
Exhibition stylist: Jeroen Bijl / Studio Bijlbuschman
Texts and lighting: Guus Sluiter, Laura Cramwinckel
Audiotour and artwork: Laura Cramwinckel
Marketing and Communication: Lizz Heijn



About the curators

Artist Sonja Hillen had been trying to organise an art exhibit about cancer for ten years. Museums and galleries were hesitant, until she and photographer Kim Tieleman knocked on the door of Museum Tot Zover. After all, the national museum about life and death often tackles difficult subjects with beautiful art.

The common thread in the work of Sonja Hillen (b. 1964) is life and how to deal with it. She depicts universal dramatic events such as motherhood, illness and mourning. Hillen's work is labor-intensive and requires a lot of patience. She likes to slow down life through embroidery. Both her husband and her brother got cancer. One lived on, the other died.

Kim Tieleman (b. 1982) studied at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. Her long-term projects usually start with a personal experience. Photography is a way for her to gain insight into the temporary nature of life. Her work is centered around the themes of change, time and mortality. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32.

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