Paul Komoda’s Syphilis Sculpture Up for Grabs

Whoooooo’s that laaaady?

This bust is the first in Paul Komoda’s highly-anticipated “Human Pathology” series. Paul, who previously brought you this cauliflower-tastic take on the Elephant Man, recently completed this sculpture of a woman suffering from Tertiary Syphilis (more images of the sculpt here). These busts were originally commissioned from Paul by the U. S. Department of Education – one for every classroom, placed squarely atop each health teacher’s desk, to scare students into finally taking the subject matter seriously. Unfortunately, the piece came out more garish than they expected, and the Department refused the final product. Well, their loss is your gain! Castings of this fine piece, titled La Pestilencia, are available from Artist Proof Studio for $160 a pop. What a fine thing to place on top of your piano, where you can serenade it every night – or perhaps you’d want place it on your bookshelf, betwixt your most rare leather-bound medical textbooks. It could greet guests at the dinner table, or look up at visitors mournfully from your office cubicle.

I’ve been watching Paul sculpt this thing for the past couple of months, and it still gives me the willies every time I see it up close. Paul chose to photograph the bust with some some light illuminating it from below, which I feel is a mistake. The harsh tales-around-the-campfire lighting makes the face look even more monstrous than it needs to be, and fails to show the humanity and sadness that Paul so carefully instilled into its features. For this isn’t some Hollywood ghoul – it’s a real person, based on this tragic and completely NSFL photo taken in 1973 of a syphilis patient. What a piercing photo – you can tell, by the eyes, by the cheekbones, the shape of the jaw – that this was once a beautiful woman, similar in appearance, perhaps, to Winona Ryder, but ruined by an unlucky life. She could still be alive today.

10 Responses to “Paul Komoda’s Syphilis Sculpture Up for Grabs”

  1. Mer Says:

    Paul Komoda, you’re a wonder.

    Having seen this sculpt up close, I concur with Nadya that there’s an immense range of emotion on La Pestilencia’s face.

    I can’t wait to see the “guinea pig monster” I hear he’s been contemplating working on. ;)

  2. Nadya Says:

    That one will be the most fearsome of all!

  3. Joelle Says:

    Completely amazing! Haunting. I want one.

  4. Wilson Says:

    Great detail on a very scary looking sculpture. After reading the part where the Department of Education refused the final version, I was somewhat miffed. Wasn’t there like some sort of contact signed before the job was done? Unless of course if in the contract it stated that if said sculpture comes out a tad too realistic/scary for their education purposes, then they could just say no. I just hope Paul was compensated well enough for the hard work he did on the bust.

  5. Celine Says:

    Seeing that woman’s picture touched me deeply. It is hard to imagine a world in which syphilis had no cure and could get to that point. Not only was she obviously a beautiful woman, but she looks exactly like my mother did in the 70s, minus the ragged holes.

    I fantasize that this poor woman’s condition was stabilized somehow, and then became rich and famous for experimenting with ornate gilded prosthetics and face armor/partial masks/jewelry.

  6. Paul Komoda Says:

    You know, there was a point when the Super Sculpey prototype was cured
    that I began reconstructing the missing parts of her face with fresh modeling material just to get an idea of what she might of looked like.

  7. asha beta Says:

    I’m with Nadya–
    Winona Ryder!!!!

  8. Vivacious G Says:


  9. Kale Kip Says:

    The US dept. of education wants to scare kids into paying attention during health classes!? That’ll set the benchmark for stupid policy for decades to come. Can I get that on record?

    Winona Ryder? My first thought was Michael Jackson, but that is probably due to the absense of the nose.

  10. Max Shea Says:

    Dr. Anthony Wisdom’s color atlas of sexually transmitted diseases has gone through dozens of editions, and is still in print today. I’m not sure if that particular photo is included. I first saw that photo when I was waaaay too young. I grabbed furtive peeks at my dad’s Hustlers back then. I saw that picture when I was ten back in 1980 or so. Larry Flynt published that photo in 1978 as part of an expose on STDs in one issue of Hustler. Back then it scared the piss out out of me. It was traumatic. I had the chance a decade later to buy that Hustler at a flea market just to prove the picture wouldn’t traumatize me again. It didn’t. My brain had developed enough to process it! I too wonder about that poor woman’s identity. However, you can be sure of one thing: She is long dead. She might have died the day that photo was taken. Even today if you’re that far gone with tertiary syphilis, it’s going to kill you.