New Artist, Old Dilemma

How Marie Curie's fascinating history inspired and resonated with artist Lauren Redniss.

By Abigail Fagan, published April 17, 2020 - last reviewed on May 5, 2020

Whitney Chandler, used with permission
Whitney Chandler, used with permission

Artist Lauren Redniss is hailed as a pioneer of a new art form. For the past decade, Redniss has combined stunning illustrations with thoroughly researched text into works she calls “visual nonfiction.” Redniss applied her unique treatment to the story of Marie and Pierre Curie, an explosive tale of science, love, death, and legacy. The book, Radioactive, has been adapted into a film of the same name, released by Amazon in March.

What interests you about Marie Curie?

Marie Curie was an incredibly tenacious person. She endured so much: She had to leave Poland and her family to access her education. She faced sexism as one of very few women at the Sorbonne. She took a mountain of rubble and distilled it into an imperceptible speck to identify radioactive materials. She put in years of back-breaking labor.

She was also a working mother, navigating love, parenting, and her career. As a mother myself, I resonate with that. It’s one of the most common struggles any parent faces—time. There’s never enough. You want to be there for your children, and you want to give them everything. You also have work that you care about deeply. And both things take all the time there is. That’s just an inherent conflict.

Everyone confronts this and reconciles themselves to it in their own way. I don’t think there’s a right way. I’m curious about how women do that and I’m interested in learning about the paths they take. How is their work affected? How do they handle it emotionally? How do they parent?

I don’t know that any story can give us the answer. But there’s some kind of comfort or solace—there’s community in recognizing that common struggle, whether you’re Marie Curie or someone who doesn’t exist on the world stage in such a dramatic and public way.