Category Archives: art

Creative Work: Yinka Shonibare, MBE

Everybody, I have found my new art crush. Yinka Shonibare, MBE is a British-Nigerian artist with an impressive list of awards, publications, and gallery exhibitions on his resume. And I am all kinds of in love with his work, from his art installations to his gallery pieces. I do love an artist with flexibility who  is just as likely to be found on the stage as in a gallery. And I like an artist who forces me to confront things about myself, to boot.

A headless mannequin in an ornate batik dress, leading three ocelots.

This piece is ‘Leisure Lady (with ocelots)’ and it pretty much sums up everything awesome about his work. For this sculpture series, he explores batik and other traditional textiles in ornate, beautiful gowns (seriously, if he did garment construction, I would totally be ordering from him) with clear Victorian influences. The headlessness of the mannequin provokes all kinds of thoughts in my head about identity; you could also read it as dehumanising, but I think it’s more complicated than that.

Two headless mannequins dressed in ornate and beautiful gowns. Each is holding up a pistol to aim at the other.

‘How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (ladies).’ It’s disturbing. It’s challenging. It’s beautiful.

This quote about his work sums it up better than I can:

Known for using batik in costumed dioramas that explore race and colonialism, Yinka Shonibare MBE also employs painting, sculpture, photography, and film in work that disrupts and challenges our notions of cultural identity. Taking on the honorific MBE as part of his name in everyday use, Shonibare plays with the ambiguities and contradictions of his attitude toward the Establishment and its legacies of colonialism and class. In multimedia projects that reveal his passion for art history, literature, and philosophy, Shonibare provides a critical tour of Western civilization and its achievements and failures. At the same time, his sensitive use of his own foibles (vanity, for one) and challenges (physical disability) provide an autobiographical perspective through which to navigate the contradictory emotions and paradoxes of his examination of individual and political power. (source)

Video: Deaf Actress Shoshannah Stern On Her Role In ‘Children of a Lesser God’

I think it’s pretty well known around here that I have a huge crush on Shoshannah Stern, who appeared in Deaf West‘s production of Children of a Lesser God last year as Sarah, the role made famous by fellow Deaf actress Marlee Matlin (on whom I also have a huge crush). Sadly, the run of the play is long over, but this interview is still relevant and interesting, so I thought I’d share it!

Shoshannah Stern, a young Deaf woman, Signs throughout this video (transcript is of the subtitles, any errors mine!).

This role means the most to Deaf theatre, I think. It really put Deaf theatre on the map. It opened doors and made people interested in Deaf culture. They were willing to see Sign and Deaf people on stage. The door opened to Broadway, the Tonys, and of course the film with Marlee Matlin. I remember the day she won her Oscar. And now it feels like an honour to be able to play that role now.

I had the perception that the play was geared for hearing audiences, not for Deaf audiences. That it taught the hearing audience what Deaf people were all about, what Sign Language was. The director says many times this play inspired people to Sign and teach Sign Language. I understand why Deaf people feel frustrated about that and they want it to be Signed fluently without that feeling of responsibility. But I feel that responsibility is a blessing: to be able to get both audiences to enjoy the show. I think that if it’s done right, I don’t think we have to sacrifice anything. I don’t think the Deaf audience should feel they missed out. Especially now, because we’re doing a modern take on the play and it’s more accessible. Almost everything is Signed.

The problem I have is that many times in the script, Sarah says ‘what?’ a lot, but now I understand what’s said. I think it’s made interesting by today’s lens and with the ADA, with more awareness of theatre, Sign Language, and Deaf theatre availability. I think this play is more accessible than ever. The idea that ASL was a recognised language hadn’t come about. Now ASL has become more mainstream. People know about it, and it’s cool. So I think there’s more wiggle room for creative use of ASL, while remaining loyal to the script. We can be more creative with the language.

I am grateful for our director, because he understands the play so well. He knows what’s under the rock and the intent. ‘Mark Medoff really meant that, not this.’ Fascinating. What happened on Broadway, and why the line was written that way. Many times he’ll correct himself and say that this line really meant that, not this. It feels like he’s an encyclopedia on the play.

Myself, I will feel really frustrated sometimes. I’ll arrive home angry because people didn’t understand me. But never to the extremes that Sarah does. So I felt it was too…but once I went there, it really felt like she had a reason for that anger. That anger comes from hurt. She’s a very hurt person and she tries to explain why. And once I felt that, I really cherished Sarah and I realised that she was an emotionally intelligent person and tried to open up but no one gave her the chance to. I respect where she comes from and I am grateful for what we have today, and I realise we have a lot more ahead of us. We have to keep fighting, and that will never stop. Some things are still the same no matter how much things have changed since then.

If you’re interested in seeing Ms. Stern in action, she’s currently on Lie To Me, and she’s also teaching a workshop on ASL storytelling this 4 December at the Deaf West theatre in North Hollywood. Voice interpretation is available.

Creative Work: Annaham in Print!

Some of our readers may be aware that our very own Annaham is, among many other things, a talented cartoonist who explores disability in her cartoons.

Line drawing of a woman in a bed, sitting up against the pillows as her eyes—popping out of her head—focus on her body parts, which have detached from their sockets and are floating around the room.

Writing about her experiences as an artist, Annaham says:

The fact that I consider myself a “disabled feminist cartoonist” may seem, to some, to be an almost hyperbolic adoption of the worst aspects of identity politics; the politics of identity, ability, and (mis)representation, however, are central to my work. In this fairly short comic, I want to put forth the idea that a condition such as fibromyalgia (which I have), and the theoretical perspective that it and similar conditions deserve, can be effectively represented via an explicitly visual form. Conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity, lupus and certain types of arthritis are all “invisible” illnesses which can be disabling. As scholar Susan Wendell contends, however, those with invisible and disabling or potentially disabling conditions are subjected to constant scrutiny, doubt, and disbelief from those around them. There is no question that art is a powerful medium; my hope is that this project succeeds in both making the “invisible” illness experience visible via the form of comics, and in addressing the challenges facing a theory of invisible illness.

The zine ‘When Language Runs Dry’ recently published her piece ‘Invisibly Ill.’ Here’s a sample panel, and if you want more, you can pick up a copy all your very own!

A line drawing depicting a young woman from the shoulders up. She appears to be split down the middle of the image, with the left side showing her as "normal" and the right side showing her as covered in nails that are obviously causing her extreme discomfort. Her facial expression on the left is neutral; on the right, it is pained. Text above the image reads: "Elaine Scarry, in her seminal work <em>The Body in Pain</em>, notes that "To have pain is to have certainty; to hear about pain is to have doubt." Text below the image reads: "The nature of a condition such as fibromyalgia--where some who have it can 'inhabit' dual worlds, makes this disparity quite pronounced."

Here’s some more information about what’s in this edition of ‘When Language Runs Dry’:

Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists for more than six months. It is often mysterious and goes undiagnosed, but can stem from injury, illness, surgical complications, or can be an inherited condition. Because it is a condition that is invisible, pain often goes without treatment or validation. The chronic pain experience is not just about the physical sensations, but also has serious emotional and social implications.

Finding good information and meaningful dialog about chronic pain can be challenging. Many of the resources out there are very clinical, too general, or are written from outside the pain experience. There are few voices by folks with chronic pain about their struggles and how they keep living as full a life as possible. This zine attempts to begin to fill the empty space with a diversity of voices telling their stories. We hope that by publishing these essays people will feel a greater sense of permission to speak out. Further, we hope to create more community for those with chronic pain and their allies.

Hot off the presses, the third issue of this edited collection includes 4 new essays, a 15 page comic essay, contributor bios and reading/resource list. Themes include parenting with chronic pain, invisibility and chronic pain, and some ways we’ve found to survive and thrive in the face of ongoing illness.

(You can see more of Annaham’s work at her website.)

Creative Work: Circle Stories, by Riva Lehrer

Riva Lehrer is a disabled painter who produces, among many other things, depictions of disabled bodies:

For Lehrer, the disabled body is intensely beautiful—memorable, unexpected, and lived in with great self-awareness. These are not bodies that are taken for granted or left unexplored. This beauty has often stayed unseen despite the constant, invasive public stare. Disability is complex; it demands images that combine hard facts with unexpected gifts. (source)

Her collection ‘Circle Stories’ consists of a series of portraits of prominent people with disabilities:

The term “Circle Stories” refers to multiple aspects of the project. The portraiture method is a circular one, involving extensive interviews with each participant, in which we talk about their lives, work, and understanding of disability. Through this collaborative process, we seek imagery that is a truthful representation of their experience.

In addition, the circle of the wheelchair is the nearly universal symbol of disability, a wheel that transforms the ordinary object of the chair into the mark of physical and social difference.

Some images from ‘Circle Stories’:

Susan Nussbaum, a woman seated on a balcony outdoors with a distant view of the ocean. She is gazing intently at the painter and a blanket is draped over her right shoulder.

Susan Nussbaum, an active member of the theatre community as well as a disability rights activist.

Rebecca Maskos, a woman with disabilities seated on a snowy stone wall with a blue bird hovering above her.

Rebecca Maskos is a German disability rights activist and artist.

“The body is the first story; our text of first meeting. I see you, you see me, skin, bone, eyes, hair: assumptions pour forth like a rip in a dam. See the thousand imprints of sex, nation, money, clues to the familiar and exotic. We read and decide in eyeblink time. When bone and blood show an unfamiliar shape, the judgments freeze into a first, rigid wall between you and I. So paint the story of surface and bone explicit, unavoidable, and ask what did you fear then and what do you think now.” (source)

This piece isn’t from ‘Circle Stories’ but I love it too much not to share:

A woman with disabilities in the woods in autumn. She is surrounded by bones and a paintbox lies next to her.

‘Into the Yellow Woods.’ I’m in a rather dark mood right now and this painting speaks to me.

You can see more of Lehrer’s work at her website!

Self-Portraits With Disability: Josephine King

Joesphine King is an artist with bipolar disorder who produces startling and evocative self portraits.

Josephine King remembers her first self-portrait and how it showed up out of nowhere. She was “really ill” with bipolar disorder, living alone in a flat in Amsterdam. “I was in psychosis. I was desperate, not at all well in my head. I thought, the only thing to do is a painting.” She worked until a woman emerged against a brilliant pink background. This was the painting that launched five years of obsessive self-portraiture, framed with texts spelling out what it is to be manic depressive. (source)

Originally establishing herself as an artist in ceramics, she turned to portraiture after her diagnosis in 1999.

A painting in several scenes. Across the top, representations of childhood: The artist sleeping in bed; a cozy house; the artist standing as a young child; a lighthouse. Two smaller scenes below, one of the artist sitting in a kitchen with a defeated expression, another of a cheery stove with a quilt behind it, a dog curled up on the hearth. Below, a larger image of the artist turning away from a canvas and being slapped by her brother. Around the frame, the text: 'My brother hit me in the atelier. Childhood fear + pain made me do it. Unbreakable bond.'

‘Unbreakable Bond’

The artist in a bold red skirt and grey striped top, holding a tiger with legs outstretched. Around the frame, the words: 'After the clinic, I went to India to look for tigers: I found none, just paper tigers.'

‘Paper Tigers’

The artist in a brown patterned dress with an apron, a small white and brown dog curled up next to her. Around the frame, the words: 'My beloved dog Primo decided to close his eyes forever. Grief released depression.'


The artist in a blue shirt and skirt, standing stiffly with her arms by her side. A cigarette dangles from one arm. Around the frame, the words: 'My psychiatrist was a chain smoker. I didn't get a cure, but I took up smoking.'

‘Chain Smoker’

Each portrait tells a little piece of her story. I really love her use of colour, textures, and shapes and I like that while each picture stands on its own really well, they can also be viewed together as part of a larger narrative about her life and her disability.

More pictures of her work can be seen at The Independent and FWD readers in and around London can see her work on display at the Riflemaker gallery.

Creative Work: Say It In Stone (Clay, Wood, Bronze…)

I stumbled across an article on RE/FORMATIONS, an art show featuring disabled women artists that was exhibited last year, and promptly started playing hopscotch across the Internet, looking up sculpture by disabled artists. I’ve always really loved sculpture because it’s such a tactile art form to me, and one of the greatest experiences of my life was going to a gallery where people were actively invited to touch and handle the sculpture. Usually we are told to keep our hands to ourselves, and I feel like I miss out on an element of the artwork by not being able to physically interact with it; I feel more connected to the artist and the work by touching it.

This being the Internet, I’m afraid none of us can touch the sculpture, but we can look at it. Here are some interesting pieces I found in my travels.

A wall mounted motor moves book pages splotched with ink and attached to guide wires. The piece is suggestive of the wings of a bird flapping.

‘Amerika,’ by German artist Rebecca Horn. Her bio from the RE/FORMATIONS site:

Rebecca Horn’s sculptures illuminate how the work of an established artist, traditionally defined as feminist/performance art, can be re-interpreted from a disability perspective. Like many artists with disabilities, Horn’s impairment has been relegated to the biographical, or perceived as a deficiency overcome, instead of an identity embraced.RE/FORMATIONS will investigate the dialogue Horn creates from the lived experience of her lung impairment, and how it intersects with other aspects of her identity. Rebecca Horn’s disability, like her gender and nationality, has invigorated her aesthetic – structurally and thematically.

A female torso, done in black terra cotta. The right breast is missing, and replaced with a mastectomy scar.

‘Black Torso,’ by American artist Nancy Fried.

Nancy Fried began creating terra-cotta torsos of women who had undergone radical mastectomies in 1986 following her own mastectomy. She subsequently chose not to have her missing breast reconstructed. It is Fried’s subtle use of nostalgia, and her ability to bridge the divide between the loss and pain of a mastectomy and the pride and power of diversity, that sets her apart from the majority of her colleagues. Fried’s embracing disability as an identity not to be “overcome” is what makes her work art and not therapy. Fried says she hopes to help “redefine female beauty,” and her torsos do this by virtue of their honesty and power.

A sculpture showing a group of men in loincloths, balancing on oversized mechanical parts. They are heavily muscled and the image suggests power and activity.

I used to walk past this sculpture, ‘The Mechanics Monument,’ pretty regularly when I lived in San Francisco, without really looking at it. Public art often goes unappreciated when you’re scurrying around about your business, and the next time I am in the City, I’m going to try to make more of a point of noticing it, because there’s some very cool stuff right there in public for everyone to enjoy (and touch). This piece is by Deaf sculptor Douglas Tilden; you can read more about him at If These Hands Could Speak… if you’re interested!

Recommended Reading for August 17, 2010

Sarah Fenske at the Phoenix New Times: ‘Til Death Do Us Part: They Got Married. Then Everything Changed

This is a love story, albeit one with a medical twist.

Unbeknownst to anyone — including Kevin himself — there was a tumor the size of a Granny Smith apple pressing onto Kevin’s brain.

Kevin didn’t need therapy. He needed surgery.

Patient C: Pain: Attitudes

Often, before I even mention pain to others, I have to overcome classic attitudes I have internalized, the largest being “is this important enough to bother someone els[e] with it?” followed by “am I being a wimp?” I have found that the fear of wimp-dom keeps many people from talking about their pain at all, or at the very least only to those people that are trusted. If I do not trust you, I will never bring it up at all, or I will bypass a pain related issue by making a weak overall health generalization, if forced (which I hate, thank you very much).

Wheelchair Dancer at Feministe: Just Who You Callin’ White

My interlocutor poked me: “Your mama white?” All thoughts of positive interaction slipped beyond my grasp. I knew that we weren’t actually talking about race and yet. Yet, I answered her question literally. My English accent returning more strongly than usual, I talked about my white father and my Afro-Caribbean mother; I spoke bitterly about the loss of Spanish and Creole-speaking family members and English as the language of acceptance. I gave her the history full and square. “Now,” I demanded, “do you think of me as white?”

In FWD-Contributors-Elsewhere news, our own s.e. smith is currently guestblogging at Bitch Magazine’s Social Commentary blog! The series is called Push(back) at the Intersections, and you can read the intro post here. An excerpt:

Feminism has a problematic history. A profound lack of awareness about this history means that we engage in the same dynamics over and over again. For example, the failure of many nondisabled feminists to recognize the history of eugenics in the reproductive rights movement means that it’s hard to understand why disabled feminists feel marginalized by the mainstream feminist and reproductive rights movements. Likewise, a lack of awareness about the history of transphobia in the feminist movement leads many cisgendered feminists to stumble unawares into very loaded conversations.

You can keep up with s.e.’s series of guest posts over at Bitch Magazine!

And finally, my good friend Paolo Sambrano, an amazing artist, performer and writer whom I have known for many years, is looking for funding for his incredible solo show Bi-Poseur, in which he humorously chronicles his experiences with life, death, mental illness, and, in his words, “the quest to write the perfect suicide note.” The show premiered to rave reviews earlier this year, and Paolo is currently attempting to fund a month-long engagement of the show in the San Francisco Bay Area, beginning in September; donations will go toward things like renting theater space, printing programs, marketing the show, hiring a tech person, and more. Here’s some info about the show:

Bi-Poseur [is] a pop-culture encrusted, kinetic look at the intricacies of trying to hang oneself with a Playstation controller, possibly being bi-polar, full scholarships to exclusive Bay Area prep schools, psych wards with twelve year old white supremacists, finally grieving the loss of a parent, motivational speaking, to live tweeting your own funeral. And push-ups. Among other things.

If you’d like to learn more, purchase tickets to the show or make a donation, you can visit Paolo’s Kickstarter page, or his website. I urge you to donate if you can (some neat donation perks are offered at various price points), and go see the show if possible!

Question Time: Creativity

Question Time is a series in which we open the floor up to you, commenters. We invite you to share as you feel comfortable.

Do you do any creative things (artwork, web design, creative writing, photography, playing a musical instrument or instruments, crafts, knitting) for fun? If so, what are they, and what do you enjoy about them? Please feel free to share links if you have them!

Alternately, are there any creative things, works, or folks that you’ve been inspired by as of late [please warn for TV show/movie/book spoilers in comments]?

Creative Work: Wolfie E. Rawk

Fiber artist Wolfie E. Rawk explores disabled and trans identities in his work, and is a spinner, which I find tremendously exciting because I’d really like to learn to spin. He also works with youth artists, and is ‘currently facilitating a series of collaborative queer quilting bees with fellow queer, transgender and allied folks in West Philadelphia with the help of a Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant.’ I think it’s official: I have a new Art Crush.

Here are are some of Rawk’s pieces:

An embroidery on canvas piece. The embroidery is red, and maps out different parts of a body, while leaving lots of white space.

‘Body Mapping–Never Give Up’ is an embroidery on canvas piece that I find intensely visually interesting. Interacting with it personally, it speaks to a lot of the disassociation I feel from my own body as a transgender person struggling with the aspects of my body that are not in alignment with my gender identity, and also to my own ongoing exploration of my body, and the social attitudes about body and propriety that act to reinforce the sometimes overwhelming disassociative emotions I experience.

A pen and ink drawing of a figure in bed, with another figure superimposed. Visual elements like musical notes, animal figures, and scrawling handwriting are strewn across the page.

‘Moar Bubblz.’

Rawk erases and recreates drawings to mirror an epileptic view of the world in which grounds are swiftly changing underfoot, identities are erased and recreated and cultural knowledge comes by personal directives.

You can see a video interview with Rawk here (with a spinning demonstration!). Here’s a transcript, kindly provided for me by Rawk:

My name is Wolfie E. Rawk and I moved to Philadelphia in 2008, and I came here because of the queer, transgender and arts community. My medium of choice is fabric art and fibers. And this piece is called, tentatively, “Stick with your kind” I think it’s about violence and being trans. It’s like, “stick with your kind,” like, someone else telling you that but also internally thinking that for safety. Well, I use fabric as a medium because I think it’s really utilitarian, being a transgender and disabled person I have like a really fragmented view of realities sort of? Or like, like, I have epilepsy and when I have seizures it’s kind of like it can be, like, a really violent jarring break from reality, or it can be this really sort of like soft like sedated experience. I make my own yarn, some of it is like this stuff right here. Using fabric in my work I can like mirror this sense of violence that I’ve had internally and also, like, done to me. And I can sort of make steps to heal that by sewing the pieces of fabric or by mending them or kind of recreating this sense of reality that more matches my internal existence. I think art for social change, in my interpretation, is kind of…there’s an internal process where art can be very healing or have this really healing power that can kind of soothe wounds that are inflicted on people, either on an individual level or on a community level. My visual experience as a person with epilepsy is like having this really like double time, superimposed, fragmented reality when I have seizures sometimes. The visuals just like hit me, kind of like almost like hit me in the eyeballs. (laughs) It’s hard to explain, but I think that’s why I layered the tissue paper so much and also had this violent aspect of tearing it. I think that I wanna continue working with transgender and queer people on, like, community healing projects. I think that having that extra money just really invigorated the project, like, I wouldn’t have been able to get a spinning wheel or like the batting for the quilts or a quilting frame, things that are really important that I could have done the project without but it would have been a lot harder I think. My epilepsy as well, it’s kind of like this repetition of like the seizing and the convulsing and how that can actually be calming I think. There’s a lot of ableism out there that looks at disability like it’s undesirable or like it’s kind of like a life experience that isn’t worthwhile or kind of like should be bred out of people. But I don’t experience it that way at all, I wouldn’t give it up. (laughs) Like art and social change for me, kind of, lifts up those voices that are routinely suppressed or ignored or shut down and it gives them space in the world (laughs).

Creative Work: Blind Photographers

As some FWD readers may be aware, photography is a hobby of mine (which I haven’t had nearly enough time lately to indulge in!). I love being behind the lens, I love looking at the world around me in new ways, and I adore working in the darkroom. I’m mostly working with digital photography these days and I miss the smell of fixer and developer on my fingers and the deep satisfaction of nailing an enlargement and having this whole new world of detail appear.

I love looking at work by other disabled photographers, and when I discovered the Blind Photographers group on Flickr, I was drawn not only to the images, but to the way that people write about photography and their relationship with the lens and the camera.

Poppies growing along with weeds, shot against a white metal fence. A road can be seen in the background. The focus of the composition is on an exuberant weed that fills the middle of the frame.

This piece is by Shmulik, an Israeli photographer:

I was born in Israel. I became blind at the age of 9. I am single and I am fond of trying new things. I am involved in varied activities including cycling, rowing, ceramic sculpting, singing, and more. I take pictures of everything: my close surrounding, objects and people, but especially nature and extreme sports, which I like to practice.

I really like the way the focus plays out here, how the world outside the fence is blurred, and I also adore the composition, with the lone poppy isolated off to the right. More of Shmulik’s work can be viewed on The Blind Photographer, a site which also has work by other Israeli photographers.

A photograph of a young boy in a diaper and nothing else, shot through a spray of water. He appears to be laughing, and the image is full of energy.

‘Frenetic,’ by Bruce Hall. This photograph was featured in ‘Sight Unseen,’ an exhibition at the University of California, Riverside.

Here’s another photographer, Craig Royal, in an interview at Blind Photographers (a site I would highly recommend!) talking about how he approaches photography:

BP: How do you think your images are affected by your eyesight?

Apart from trying to express my visual reality by way of a visual art form my desire to see more of the detail that surrounds me, though it being after the fact, plays a part in my choices of subject matter. Being very nearsighted I am not drawn to landscape photography.

More of Craig’s work can be found on Flickr.

A train yard, with an orange locomotive in the foreground and two red cabooses in the background on another track.

‘Today’s Engine Yesterday’s Caboose’ is by Riverrat, a member of the Blind Photographers Flickr Group. Although the image is stationary, it’s framed in a way that feels very dynamic and filled with action. I almost except to see the locomotive whisking off to the left.

Riverrat’s profile has a brief discussion of how he got into photography and the tools he uses:

Hi, I am legally blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa. I was always intimidated by a camera and computer until March, 2007,when I decided to give both of them a try. My photos are just snap shots of my everyday life. I use a digital camera and have Zoom Text on my computer, a magnification and reader program.

All of this looking at photographs to compile this post has me longing for that digital SLR I’ve been lusting after, although one of the interesting things about the Blind Photographers group is that many people are working with relatively inexpensive point and shoots like my trusty Powershot, and turning out really amazing work, illustrating that in the hands of a good photographer, a mediocre camera with a crappy lens can still turn out spectacular photos.