There are over 50 million people in the United States who experience disability and make up one of the largest minorities. Contrary to what many believe, people with disabilities are like all other members of society — they can live successful lives, are active members of their communities, and make important contributions to society.
Having acquired my disability at the age of 13 — I was paralyzed in a car accident in Mexico — I had so much support from family and friends to pursue my goals academically, artistically and professionally. That support made me driven, and I have had many opportunities because of my disability. However, I am a woman, I have a disability and I am Mexican; sometimes belonging to these groups comes with barriers.
I am not alone; there are so many that face the same struggles. These obstacles can be physical, but mostly they are societal stereotypes and perceptions of our abilities. I think it’s important to help change that through civic engagement, but I also believe in the power of art. We live in an age of instant communication, memes and constant media bombardment — the power of visual representation cannot be underestimated. Art not only shapes our ideas of who we are as individuals, but influence our ideas of who we are as members of society.
Through BACKBONES, a nonprofit that exists to help people with spinal cord injury or disease (SCI/D) and their families connect with their communities, we have curated the Unbroken: Art After Injury art show this September at the Bridgeport Art Center in Chicago. Unbroken includes voices of artists with spinal cord injuries and disease and celebrates their contributions, talent, creativity and personal stories. This visual storytelling is a glimpse of the accomplishments, pain, happiness, loss and beauty of a few individuals with spinal cord injury and paralysis. We are proud to be able to showcase five Latino artists with spinal cord injury from Illinois. Each artist has a unique story and journey that has led them to use art as a way to create, express and connect with the world. By including their voices this project empowers many individuals and provides a much needed space to address issues and celebrate the contributions of people with SCI/D.
The exhibit is free and runs September 8-28.
Featured artists with spinal cord injuries:
Mariam Pare mouth painter, Chicago (Mexican/Moroccan) — Mariam was shot and paralyzed from the neck down, and her work ranges from still life to surreal.
Jesse Cuellar mouth painter, St. Louis (Salvadoran) – Jesse painted murals and graffitti prior to a fall that paralyzed him from the chest down. He relearned his signature style painting with his mouth.
Federico Martinez Cissna Park, IL (Mexican) — Federico was injured in a farm accident. Prior to his injury, he used pencil. Post-injury he paints using acrylic.
Genevieve Nutley Chicago (Mexican/Irish) – Genevieve was injured in a car accident and is currently an art student.
Reveca Torres Prospect Heights, IL (Mexican) — Reveca was injured in a car accident. She uses ink, acrylic and fabric in her work.
Jen Kostanski Chicago — Jen was injured in a car accident and now uses an an adaptive splint and brushes to create abstract works of art.
Kennedy N’gang’a Kenya — Once an avid swimmer, Mr. N’gang’a suffered a spinal cord injury while diving in 1992. He specializes in acrylic paintings depicting wildlife and scenes of his native Africa.
Carrie Kaufman Chicago — Carrie suffered a spinal cord injury during a diving mishap in college and now works with the Disability Justice Mentoring Collective at Access Living Chicago.
Emily Lyles Columbus, SC — Emily received an M.F.A. from the University of South Carolina where she is an adjunct professor. Her digital work and paintings focus on personal subjects, including (but not limited to) her experience as an Achondroplastic dwarf.
Melissa Allensworth Irvine, CA — Melissa is a photographer and painter who suffered a spinal cord injury in a 2008 car accident.
Opening Night Celebration & Silent Auction
September 9 @ 6:30pm
Bridgeport Arts Center (1200 W 35th St, Chicago, IL 60609)
Mouth Painting Demo & Painting Party
September 24 @ 1:30pm
Family fun! Watch a mouth-painting demo featuring Mariam Pare and Jesse Cuellar (Association of Mouth and Foot Painters), and create your own canvas to take home with you!
For more information, visit www.BACKBONESONLINE.com.
Reveca Torres is the founder and executive director of BACKBONES, a non-profit organization connecting people with spinal cord injury or disease and their families with their communities. You can connect on Twitter @backbonesonline.
Featured image: Jason Riedmiller/Facebook