Self-described “dura mater” of her family, Nicole Angemi’s passion for pathology, people, and education about death makes her an authentic, relatable Instagram personality. The dura mater, which is Latin for “tough mother,” is the thick outermost membrane that protects the brain. Nicole, a fierce mother of three and wife with over 19 years laboratory experience, truly fits this anatomical term—playing and homeschooling her kids while working as a pathologist’s assistant identifying infections and diseases among the deceased.
You might be familiar with her wildly popular Instagram account @mrs_angemi, which features colorful photos of dissected organs and autopsies. These images of brains, fetuses, and human anatomy are more real-life gore than most of us see. But Nicole’s thoughtful and often long-form captions are insightful, encouraging reminders to live in the present because someday we all die. We learned about how Nicole works with artists to bring her anatomically inspired art to life and connected to hear her thoughts on death and creativity after the launch of her Artist Shop.
You went to Camden County Community College for nursing at 19, then got a bachelor’s degree in cytotechnology from Thomas Jefferson University and a master’s from Drexel University. Were you interested in medicine or science from a young age?
I was always interested in science in school but I never knew I could do it as a career. I really didn’t get into it until I took my first biology class in college. That is when I looked under the microscope for the first time and fell in love!
How long have you been making art? What was the earliest medium you worked in and what kinds of work did you make?
I never have considered myself an “artist.” I’m more of a crafter. I’ve been really into art and making art projects since I was a young kid and I still do it to this day. Now I mainly work with bones, gallstones, or other oddities I collect as part of my collection.
You create really compelling, dark designs that often feature or showcase anatomy in some way. How does your job in pathology and autopsy inform your art?
I create the ideas for The Dura Mater line and have different artists execute the designs based upon the look I’m going for.
Why do you create art? What drives you to create?
I mostly create art that I can display in my home.
Do you have a favorite bone or body part to design?
My favorite thing to put on display is old IUS’s (birth control devices). I have over 20 on display in my house!
What’s the most interesting part about studying the human body post mortem?
Autopsies and human anatomy are the same today as they were thousands of years ago (minus the electric bone saw). I love studying and seeing things that I have learned from teachers, mentors, and textbooks.
How does your work in the hospital and your art help you process death? What advice do you have for people struggling with mortality and death?
Death is something we all have in common. It will be something all of us have to deal with at some point in our lives—and it will definitely happen to every one of us! There is nothing to fear. Make the most of your time here. Make an impact and make change, so when your physical body is gone what makes “you” still can live on!
What does your process look like for creating new art?
When I come up with a new idea for a design, I have a vision of it in my head then get the best artist to design it.
How do you balance what inspires your art and what you feel drawn to create? What do you do to refresh your artistic passion when you’re not feeling inspired?
If you are passionate about your art, there should never be a lack of inspiration. If you feel like you are often out of ideas or drive, you may want to explore another thing. Keep trying different things until you get the right fit. The ideas should never stop flowing when it’s right.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?
My biggest advice is to do what you love. Do not create to conform. Trust your instinct and your judgement. If people came to you because they love your ideas, they will see your vision.