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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Dr Charlie Teo operating on my brain, 2021

Filippa Buttitta

Darling Portrait Prize 2022 Finalist

As COVID-19 took over the world, an evil alien secretly grew in the occipital lobe of my brain, disrupting my eyesight. Suddenly I could no longer paint, or even read. Diagnosis was swift. From my optometrist to the Sydney Eye Hospital to the Prince of Wales Hospital, I soon learned of my shocking condition: a Grade 4 Glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumour with no known cure and a grim prognosis. Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy could allow me eighteen months or more if I am fortunate. Within days of diagnosis, the tumour was removed by the world-renowned brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo, and my eyesight was thankfully restored. Seven months later the brain tumour returned, and this painting portrays Dr Teo removing the second tumour. In this work, I have attempted to capture the trust between the skilful and experienced surgeon who holds the patient’s life in his hands, and the vulnerable patient who must passively submit to the invasive procedure. The painting was inspired by my orchestrated photographs taken by Dr Teo’s assistant during my actual surgery. This surgery has enabled me to live and for that I am grateful to Dr Teo. Painting this traumatic event and ongoing journey of day-to-day survival on canvas has inspired me to continue my artistic life and has resulted in a series of works called ‘Surviving a Brain Tumour’. Without Dr Teo operating on my brain, I would not be alive today to produce this painting and continue my work as an artist.

Tragically, Filippa Buttitta died in March 2022, one year after completing this portrait.

Darling Portrait Prize 2022

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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