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Joyce Overheul

glow in the dark

The work of Joyce Overheul often revolves around people in difficult circumstances, how they cope and how they fight to improve their situation.

For The Radium Portrait Overheul made a portrait of a factory worker from the 1920s in the United States, Grace Fryer. Fryer was one of the Radium Girls, a group of women that worked in radium factories in the U.S., where they were made to paint watch hands and watch dials with luminescent, radioactive paint. The women were told that the paint was harmless, and to be able to work quicker, instead of dipping them into water, they had to wet the brushes between their lips… This way, the workers ingested a large amount of radioactive material and eventually died of radiation sickness. Some women ingested so much paint that they started to glow in the dark themselves, just like the radium…

Before their untimely death a group of women filed lawsuits against their employers, which they won after many dreadful years. The lawsuits had great impact, they improved working conditions for many labourers in the U.S. but also in many other countries around the world.
Fryer herself died of radiation sickness in 1933. Her portrait has been made out of the same old watch hands that countless women painted in radium factories across the world. The portrait is constructed out of more than 2400 watch hands and, like many of the Radium Girls back then, glows in the dark.





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