AAWR explores Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability
Many folks consider chronic illness and disability a “them” rather than an “us” problem—an unfortunate but distant reality which impacts only a handful of the population. This couldn’t be further from the truth. According to the CDC, an estimated 26 percent of Americans experience some form of disability, with women and People of Color being affected at rates much higher than their peers. Inclusion and accessibility are everyone’s responsibility, and the arts community has the chance to be the vanguard of social change.
This September, the Artists Archives is proud to present W/O Limits, an exhibition of visual art created exclusively by people experiencing chronic illness and/or disability. Curated by Megan Alves and Mindy Tousley, the remarkable show emphasizes audience accessibility, raises awareness for inclusion within the arts, and inspires visitors with the work people experiencing chronic illness and disability can create.
W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability showcases the evocative work of nine Northeast Ohio artists, including Sarah Brown, Kristi Copez, Chappelle Letman Jr., MANDEM, Meg Matko, Arabella Proffer, Nate Puppets, Andrew Reach, and Kate Snow, and features a wide array of dynamic art from painting to video installations and interactive digital creations.
The exhibition was conceived by curator Megan Alves as an extension of her own journey living with scleroderma, a rare and progressive autoimmune disease which impacts the connective tissue. She explains, “After I was diagnosed, I started looking around. I realized how many brilliant artists I knew who were also experiencing some form of disability. Far from diminishing the quality of their work, these challenges made their art MORE engaging because it tackles part of the human experience—the realities of living in a fallible and fleshy body which will eventually break down.”
Included in the show are the powerful self-portraits of Kristi Copez that explore the intersections of her identity as a Black Disabled Woman. As she explains, “A question I ask myself as someone with a disability is ‘what are you presenting to the world?’ I constantly worry about whether I am ‘showing,’ whether my disability is visible, and I will be discounted, or conversely, not visible enough and I will be doubted. These are portraits of a Black body. A Woman’s body. A Sick body. What I want you to see is the beauty of the art AND the illness.”
Thanks in part to the support of a grant by the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, W/O Limits also features a variety of accessibility measures including braille text, a wheelchair-friendly layout, and a selection of touchable sculptures for those with sensory sensitivities and visual impairments. Artist Andrew Reach, known for his buzzing, large-scale digital prints, was commissioned to make one such tactile piece. “At first, the thought intimidated me,” Reach admits, “but it had been a few years since I worked in 3D and it would be healthy for me mentally to challenge myself and expand into new territory. Digital technology is a gift to the disabled, allowing expression that can be too physically demanding with traditional tools.” The result is a 3D printed hashtag symbol, comprised of eighty individually hashtagged relief blocks—a sensory feast which transmits the modern experience of metadata to both the eyes and hands.
Of particular note, is the posthumous display of the work of Chappelle Letman Jr., a successful painter and printmaker until the age of 41 when he “woke up blind,” losing his sight to glaucoma just days after his mother’s death. Rather than give up his life as a visual artist, Letman turned to carving stone. Letman came to discover he “was not a ‘blind artist,’ I was an artist who was blind. Making art puts me in a state of mind where my disability is not an issue. My life and art is a unity of purpose, spirit, and the moment transcending limitations and academic rule by the grace of the creator and my ancestors. I’ve always been an artist since day one. I didn’t let a disability interfere with my life’s calling.” His work will be archived in the museum’s permanent collection after the exhibition closes.
W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability will open with a free public reception from 5:30 to 8 pm on Thursday, September 22, and will be on view until November 12. For a full list of the robust accompanying program and other events, visit artistsarchives.org.
W/O LIMITS: ART, CHRONIC ILLNESS, & DISABILITY | SEPTEMBER 22–NOVEMBER 12
CURATED BY MEGAN ALVES & MINDY TOUSLEY
OPENING RECEPTION 5:30-8PM THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22
W/O LIMITS: VIRTUAL ARTIST PANEL | (TENTATIVE DATE) 7-8PM WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 12
PUPPET MAKING WORKSHOP | 1-2:30PM SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23
LED BY NATE PUPPETS WITH FACILITATION BY CHRIS RICHARDS-PAGEL, BFA, MSW, APSW
For more information visit artistsarchives.org
ARTISTS ARCHIVES OF THE WESTERN RESERVE
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