Disability Lead hosted a conversation with Chicago artists Riva Lehrer and Sandie Yi whose visual and multimedia work has explored and celebrated disability culture and the disabled body. Both artists have redefined what it means to be disabled and, through their art, have offered a rich understanding of the beauty and creativity that is inherent in disabled lives. Riva and Sandie provided an accessible presentation of their work and joined Risa Rifkind, Disability Lead’s Director of Civic Engagement and Marketing, for a conversation on how they use their work to advance, advocate and show the beauty and power of the disability experience.
Riva Lehrer (b. 1958, Cincinnati, Ohio). Riva Lehrer is an artist, writer and curator who focuses on the socially challenged body. She is best known for representations of people whose physical embodiment, sexuality, or gender identity have long been stigmatized. Ms. Lehrer’s work has been seen in venues including the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian, Yale University, the United Nations, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, the Arnot Museum, the DeCordova Museum, the Frye Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the State of Illinois Museum. Awards include the 2017 3Arts MacDowell Fellowship for writing, 2015 3Arts Residency Fellowship at the University of Illinois; the 2014 Carnegie Mellon Fellowship at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges; the 2009 Prairie Fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation. Grants include the 2009 Critical Fierceness Grant, the 2008 3Arts Foundation Grant, and the 2006 Wynn Newhouse Award for Excellence, (NYC), as well as grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the University of Illinois, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her memoir, Golem Girl, will be published by the One World imprint of Penguin/Random House in October 2020. Ms. Lehrer is represented by Regal Hoffman & Associates literary agency, NYC. Ms. Lehrer is on faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and instructor in the Medical Humanities Departments of Northwestern University.
Sandie Yi is an assistant professor in the department of art therapy and counseling and the program director of Disability Culture Activism Lab (DCAL) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She has a MA in art therapy from SAIC, and MFA from the University of California Berkeley. She is a disabled artist and disability culture worker whose work focuses on wearable art made for and with self-identified disabled people. As a part of the Disability Art Movement, Yi’s art, Crip Couture explores the issue of intimacy, desire, and sexuality of the disabled bodymind. The wearable art objects and their wearers call for a recognition of disability as an aesthetic choice and suggest the possibility for a new genre of wearable art, Disability Fashion
Hello! We will wait a few more moments will everyone continues to join. Thank you for joining us! We will give it one more 30 second round, I see more people are joining. Thank you for joining us!
I will go ahead and get started. Welcome and thank you for joining us for our Disability Power Series featuring Riva Lehrer and Sandie Yi. This is reset speaking, the director of civic engagement and marketing for Disability Lead.
My pronouns are she/her's, and an image description about me, I am a brown woman with dark brown long curly darkish curly hair. I'm wearing a green sweater and a chunky pearl necklace.
My virtual background is just a pretty neutral screen. We have key accessibility features in Zoom today. We have CART, ASL interpreters, and a Spanish translation available. If you have any challenges accessing these features, please connect with us in the chat box and they can all be selected from the bottom menu in your screen.
Thank you for joining, again, including so many of our Disability Lead members. And of course those I have donated to support the accessibility of this program. Also â€“ for those of you who have been waiting like we have been for six months.
If you are a person with a disability living in the Chicago region, and are interested in joining our community, I invite you to visit www.disabilitylead.org to become a member or if you are interested in becoming a fellow, this application will be opening over the summer for 2023.
Cannot believe I just said that! 2023. All participants today are in attendee mode only. We encourage you to engage with us, and follow along with us on social media. Using the hashtag and handles that are on the screen. Including @WeAreDisLead, and #PowerInfluenceChange and we have questions from you, and in advance are great questions.
We will open the Q&A feature halfway through the program, I will take questions from the Q&A feature. Feel free to use that Q&A feature to submit any additional questions you might have. With that â€“ I'm thrilled to go off camera and invite Sandie Yi on camera will be sharing her phenomenal work with us. Today, we will be looking at Sandie Yi's work and Riva Lehrer's work, and each of them will have seven to eight minutes to present their work.
Then we will come back to three of us with the conversation together, and again, we will turn it over to your questions. I will say that Reva is running a few mins late but she hopes she can join us by the time Sandie Yi is done with her presentation. Sandie Yi, if you are with us please come on video. Thank you! I will turn off mine.
Hello, everyone! I go by she/her, and an image description of myself would be I'm a Taiwanese with light, tanned/sometimes people say olive skin tone, and long black hair, in the back and I have some plants and a little wheelchair, a toy sized wheelchair in the back.
On the slides I have two images of my work. This was called refused, there is a dash. Having a conversation with myself, what did the medical intervention mean to me when I was born, my fingers were fused together. I had operations.
I have always wanted to do something about my scars. In this piece, I put my arms â€“ my arms, my wrists resting on top of each other, and I have a tailor-made plastic base, and latex handpiece that I am wearing in this picture.
I am also in a brief, like underwear, with two big white framed cutouts featuring the scars that I have on my pelvic bone.
The second picture kind of shows the view from the side, where I have my hands kind of propped back. Holding my waist. You can see more stitches on there.
In this piece I was truly thinking about â€“ is the medical model all bad? So, back then, I did not have a lot of knowledge from Disabilities Studies. The conversation was always within myself, like, "Well, it helped me to gain finer motor skills."
It is complicated because often times people focus on, like, what's wrong with you? How do we fix you? How do we help you? In this piece, I was really loves... Having a dialogue with myself. And thinking about what it means to not live like, either a medical or social model.
In this picture, a Caucasian model rests both of her hands on her hips. She wears a coral coloured skirt and a beige bandu which is a piece of fabric that covers the breast area. A part of the white L-shaped wrist braces cradles her wrists. Which naturally curve inwards. Her fingers curve, and rested gently next to each other.
The L-shaped braces have a heart surface that was organic, weighty, edges close to the model hand. The forearms are cupped, with soft fabric embroidered with clusters of white and pink French knots. These are the stitches I made.
In this piece, I work with a dear friend who is a disabled painter, Samara Taylor, and we were talking about what it means to redefine what is normal, what is healthy, what is beautiful for us. Next.
In this picture, I have four images that are all close-up pictures showing you the details of the braces that I created. So, having a conversation about... what were the things that medical professions wanted you to do, or the things that people believe that should be normal that was done to you? In Sammy's case, she had to wear braces to straighten her wrist.
In the conversation I had with her was like, "What would be the most comfortable position that you would rather be in with your wrist?" And she said "L-shaped." I created this piece to hold our stories and also hold her desire to be in her own body. Next piece, please.
So, there are three panels, each contains transparent silky fabric. The shape of the sacks very organically, they are tiny pieces of human skin flakes inside each of the sacks and embroidered with red, salmon colours, and white threads.
In my work, I often focus on the narrative that my disabled siblings and I have, and in this piece I work with disability rights activist, Ronnie Patrick, RAHNEE and Patrick, so, we share a connection based on â€“ you know, she was the first Asian American with disabilities that I know of.
So, for me, it was like "Wow! I finally found my family." On top of that, we talk about how our bodies are shaped because our disability, particularly our fingers and toes, and I work as a personal assistant for Rahnee and I want to explain I am in Chicago Loop, so the train is going passed by me. It may be covering some of my voice.
If I did not make myself clear, I would be happy to provide more explanation's later back to this piece â€“ Rahnie and Akamai worked for her as a personal assistant from time to time. In her experience is she â€“ her skin froze 100 times faster than average people.
During our care sessions, the interactions I had with her may look like, oh, it's like caring for one another in terms of dressing, and getting ready for lotion, and stuff like that.
But for us, this connection between crip siblings, crip sisters, is about creating a space where we can hold the existence of our bodies. Next slide.
You can see a detailed â€“ you can see a detailed picture of the skin flakes inside of the sacks and some of the flakes appear to be more like yellowish, and the sacks looked like a white cloud and there are several pieces in this image.
The last image I have for you are to images featuring the same piece. They are strips of olive green felt fabric, and one of them â€“ they gather diagonally, on a white surface. Each of them were cut with hand shapes modelled after my two finger hands. Each strip ends with large two finger hands, and there are smaller to finger hands which are cut randomly on the sides.
I worked with Sins Invalid on this piece called kelp help, and I would be happy to tell you more about it when we go into conversations with Risa and Riva. Thank you!
Thank you so much for sharing your art with us. It is so powerful. I cannot wait to get into more conversation with you, but at this time, Riva you are here. Please come off of mute. And introduce yourself, and you should describe your art with us.
Hi, everyone. Forgive me for being late it's been a very crip day. Many, many body issues. Anyway... in very happy to be here with Sandie, Chicago is incredibly lucky she decided to stay here.
And listening to her talk about her work, I realize that besides a deep concern with the body, and was trying to figure out what we found beautiful, in the realm of things we were told are the very definition of the un beautiful.
We also share a real commitment to intimacy. Mine is my way of doing that, that is different than what Sandie does, hers is much more tactile immediately.
I am sorry. I should have described myself. I am a short, disabled woman who is currently 63. I am white, I have very white hair, streaked with a bright red. Which is chosen red, I am a chosen redhead. I am wearing a black shirt, a buttoned up black shirt with hoop earrings, and inside of the hoop earrings, I'm sorry.
You may not be able to see little hands I wore in honour of Sandie. They are not as beautifully shaped as hers but it is my -- homage to her.
People call me a portrait artist, I figured out when I... I'm an artist trying to figure out embodiment through the medium of portraiture. I am sorry, I swallowed the wrong way a couple of minutes ago and I have to mute myself a second to cough really hard. I will be immediately back.
Hopefully that will help. And not just dislodge any remaining tonsils.
So, I'm an artist who is trying to understand embodiment through the portraiture. And through making portraiture specifically ethically structured form of engagement that shows how we are treated as disabled, or queer people, or anyone continually told they are other.
My deep interest is rooted in disability, what I have come to also understand what I really am concerned with is stigma. At how people live under stigma. When I first started doing portraits, in 1997, up until then... I hated being disabled. I was totally ashamed.
I write about â€“ I have a book out, I will show you later. In the book I read about the fact that for years, I would walk around with my glasses off and just to show you what my prescription is like, I am holding my glasses up to the lens and you can see they are very distorting. It is a thick prescription. I walk around without my glasses on so I could not see myself because I was so horrified but even seeing myself in a shop window, I could not even endure it.
I had a great luck in 97 to be pulled in something called the Chicago Disabled Artist Collective, that was included by many other artists, Susan who is the one who dragged me in, Alana Wallace, (Unknown Name), Deaf carpenter, Bill Shannon, I'm sure I'm blanking. It was quite remarkable group of people.
What I'm guessing Sandie would resonate with, besides telling me there was art about disability and humour, and you could dress snappy, which they did, which I loved. What they really gave me was analysis. Up until that point â€“ I think this is something a lot of disabled people deal with.
We are just swimming in our life. We are being flooded by all these terrible messages, and ways that we are treated, and boatloads of shame, you know? We are just kind of in it trying to survive it.
Until â€“ at least for me â€“ until you find people who can help you back up and look at what's really going on here, what's happening politically, and historically, and aesthetically, so you can take the crap of your life and get a hold of it, and take it apart.
And see what the forces are behind how you have been raised, how you have been treated, so, that's what they did for me.
So, when I started doing portraits... one of the things I realized in the collective is the one thing that really bound us all together, whatever our impairment was, as soon as it became, you know, if we were visibly disabled or had a performative disability that would suddenly make itself known, as soon as we were identifiably disabled, we would get stared at. We would get comments, but we would get stared at.
I mean, everyone all of a sudden was trying to diagnosis. And asking questions explicitly, asking the diagnosis.
So, when I decided to ask people to sit for me, I realized they were going to be carrying this hard, hard history of being stared at, looked at in a way that hurts. Right? It hurt. So no, what? I will make them sit in a room and make me stare at them? The way I come up with an acceptable method, or help would be acceptable, I immediately started giving people power over how they were going to be represented.
I interviewed people for a long time. I disclosed a lot of stuff about myself. So, it was not a one way street. We worked on little thumbnails, taken from the stories they have told me. I would show them the thumbnail, a little sketch, and say, "Does this seem truthful for you? Would you like to be seen like this?" And finally the person would come and sit for me.
For me, the studio is intensely intimate. Nobody else is allowed in when we are working together. I have done a couple of public studios but they are very controlled. When people are allowed to come in. And I never ask anybody to do anything they are uncomfortable with.
Right now on the screen is a large charcoal black and white drawing of someone who many of you may be familiar with, a woman named Nomy Lamm, Nomy Lamm, I met her originally in Chicago, she was here studying an alternative Jewish art style, and she has gone off to Oakland and is the artistic Director of Sins Invalid. That Sandie mentioned.
When I met her, she was mainly a singer, a performance artist and a singer. So, each story behind â€“ the story behind each piece is a long, and intense... there is text on my website, and in my book, my book exists both as a physical hardback, paperback, audiobook, and e-book. In the audiobook, we have audio descriptions of each piece. So, for anyone who has low or no vision, you can experience this, you know, in a fully described form.
But in this piece, Nomy Lamm is suspended in water. She is wearing a swimsuit. She is a white woman who is â€“ I will say fat because she is a fat activist. Her pigtails or floating up towards the surface. Her mouth is open. She is gesturing with her hands. And a swimming with her, upside down, is a large leopard seal.
There are air bubbles coming from the seals mouth and blending with the bubbles coming from Nomy Lamm's mouth, because we were talking about how in our imagination we have images, and heroes, and objects that when we are really, like not sideways, we can turn to those things to help us remember who we are.
So, if anyone looks towards this, on the right-hand corner of the image, you will see that Nomy has taken off her prosthetic leg and is swimming with the sock amputees wear between the prosthetic and their flesh. It makes the whole kinetic shape. It is one of my favourite drawings. Next.
This is from the same series called Totems and Familiars and this is a large drawing of Lynn Manning who was a Black man who grew up in the Watts area of Los Angeles. He originally was a sculptor.
He was shot and blinded in a bizarre attack. When he was in his, I believe late 20s. After he lost his vision, he reinvented himself. That is what we do. That is what being disabled is so much about. Constant reinvention, constant learning that you cannot hold on to the old ways of doing things.
There are always temporary things. His reinvention was spectacular. He became the blind judo champion, several years running in the Paralympics. He then became â€“ became a painter, but most primarily he became an actor and a poet whose work was... powerful does not do it justice. He founded the Watts Village Founder, so he became just... tremendously influential, and again, you know, been kind enough to sit for me.
I do want to say one extra thing about this piece. I mentioned we would work from little sketches, people would tell me stories, and I would do versions of them. And to show them and we would alter them.
Because he had no vision, I could not do that. My work is always based in ethics. So, what I decided, what we came up with was that I would â€“ once he went back to LA, and I continued working on his portrait, that I would send photos to LA, via email, to his email.
He would show them to his wife and friends who would tell him what they look like, they would discuss it, and tell me whether or not he thought that perhaps something should change.
We came up with an alternate method, at first I was like, "How can I do this if I cannot show my collaborator the working materials?" But we figured it out. In this image, Lynn is shirtless, although he was wearing pants.
It is a two-part strong. In the lower drawing, he is holding up his white cane. Right down the middle of his face. On his skin, first off you can see his beautiful, musculature. You can also see these gorgeous stripes that are stretch marks, like, pregnant women get. Pregnant women get them because the skin stretches past the point of stability. And it starts to have these little micro ruptures.
Same thing, apparently, it happened to weightlifters. People who are extremely muscular. For Lynn it is like he is a tiger. He has these beautiful, just kind of contour stripes running down his arms. Next.
That was from 2009.
Forgive me, I do not remember how many slides I have. Go a little faster. This is a self-portrait from 2016. It is called 66 Degrees which has to do with the angle of my scoliosis which I never say, but it is us together. I will tell you guys. I never say this to mainstream audiences.
66Â° with the angle of my scoliosis that year. When they measured me. I am standing nude to the waist in a green pond at night, my arms are raised like I'm going to fly away up and behind me.
There are streams of water pouring all around me. I am painted in Caucasian flesh tones with my red and white hair, the pond is luminous green and draped around my body is a gold evening gown which is floating partly on the water and coming apart in the water. Next slide.
OK. When the pandemic hit, you will be unsurprised to hear... I could not have anybody in my studio anymore, I could not do that physical intimacy, I have pretty intense vulnerabilities, to get COVID it would be extremely dangerous.
So, I flailed for a few weeks, oh my gosh, this is the end of my career. I thought, no, I will start drawing people over Zoom. So, I started asking people to sit for me where I could see them in my laptop.
And the first person that I wanted to work with was our spectacular sister, -- Alice Wong. She is an Asian-American, I think Chinese-American activist based in the Bay Area. She is one of our most public voices for disability rights, and everything. Justice, culture, medical justice, she is ferocious and brilliant. She is the one that came up with that book, oh my God â€“ you will know the title, I am old and loose words.
It is disability visibility.
A huge thank you. A lot of prominent essays by emerging disability writers. We sat for six weeks on and off online. I got to know her much better. In this image, she is drawn on translucent plastic mylar to give a bit of the feeling of the surface of a laptop.
In this image, she has pale golden skin, stark black hair, pulled back in a ponytail. There is a line drawing on the back of her wheelchair behind her. She is wearing her BIPAP which gives to her oxygen support. That comes off the side. I love drawing that.
The translucence and elegance of that form, it was wonderful. It is that disability beauty thing. I just thought it was gorgeous. She is wearing a black and white tracksuit where the white stripes of the tracksuit play with the curve of her wheelchair, and her BIPAP.
And at the bottom, you cannot see it, but there is handwritten notes about our exchanges and there is a line drawing of her apartment right behind her.
Alice has been done in full colour and everything else is in black and white. I think that is my last slide! I hope.
It was, that was such a phenomenal sharing of your incredible work. At this time, I'm going to invite Sandie Yi to come join us on screen. As we do a little bit of a conversation, and reminder to our audience, thank you for sending such powerful remarks in the chat.
If you have any questions, please drop them in the Q&A for our wonderful speakers today. And I think Robin, just a little housekeeping notes â€“ I think Robin will be dropping that in chat a reminder that there is captioning, ASL interpretation, and Spanish interpretation available.
If you have any questions about this, please chat us.
With that â€“ I will ask Sandie Yi and Riva a question about power. We always start our conversations together talking about power. The power series. This is the Disability Power Series.
I think you both do it quite powerfully, and I know I'm saying power a lot, by controlling and challenging the narrative around disability as you both shared. In talking about your art through your art. Why is it important to claim power? How do we claim power? Especially for those of us that experienced marginalized identities. Sandie?
Sure, this is Sandie Yi speaking. So, when I create art, I actually did not consider myself like, oh, I have power.
I think it is only something that I think or reflect on later. You know, the idea of power â€“ it does not mean you always have to feel like strong, and positive, and optimistic about things.
But I think I do define, like, the energy, or maybe power, the energy that I get to create when I share conversations with my disabled siblings. That energy is something that keeps me going. So, maybe it is a form of power.
For me, I think about... the relationship that we get to build together. With one another. It is the core value and the strength that I feel like I am lucky to, in a way, inherited from my disability community.
To be honest, I do not think in terms of power. My mind always goes to more political things. Things that create sort of immediate structural change. Not that art does not.
I mean, I work a lot with museums, and granting organizations, and residencies, and stuff last for years. To get them to be aware of the needs of artists with disabilities, if they are going to invite them in. They need to understand the context.
I think that's the place where I feel like I'm the most, sort of directly powerful, for instance, years ago I worked with the NEA, the first time I worked with them I was talking to them about the problem of grant applications.
For artists, a lot of times when you apply for a grant they will say, "Please apply with your last two years of work." Or last four years of work. And for many of us, that is ridiculous. Because we might have a very productive year, and a couple of years where we are really not well, were in and out of the hospital or something, and we start picking up our practice up again.
For someone who has been able bodied and able to be productive all those four years, we are not going to look very impressive. So, that was one immediate change that I was able to do in several, you know, major grants for them to... really reconsider the timeline, the time parameters for work.
But I think... power. Here's a problem: (Laughs) I am so contrary. I have been doing book launch, or book event since October 2020 when my book came out. The abled bodied world really wants to see me as powerful. As someone who's like, overcome, and a survivor, and "We do not know how you do it!" And I get very irritated.
Because I want to think about aesthetics, and intimacy, and trust, and finding in yourself... those delicate places where honesty comes from. And risk.
And so, when I feel it and being as a Joan of Arc or something, the secret Jew, (Laughs) It makes me crazy. It disturbs me.
It's a hard thing to answer. I want to make change, I want to make structural change, but in the studio what I'm doing in the studio is not about that. What I do outside the studio as an advisor or a public speaker, closer to that.
I appreciate the challenge and the concept of power. I think of someone who is disabled myself, the power I see between the two of you, and I hope you are noticing in the chat, how many people are saying, you are some of the most admired artists in Chicago.
I cannot see the chat.
I will read it to you and send it to you after the event. Complements to you and your work today, really appreciating the value of sharing the collective disabled story. I want to ask about the connection between both of you and your work. I see your work being so connected, between your studio work, between 'Golem Girl', and Sandie Yi in the pieces you shared with us today.
You are both educators and activists, as well, your understanding of the disability experience, I feel like mirrors each other in some anyways. It is unique. We all have our own stories, as well. How do you see each other's work paralleling and diverging from each other?
I know you are longtime friends, as well. So I am really curious how you see your work being connected to one another.
Will you take that?
Sure! So, I met Riva back in 2006 at a disability arts and culture festival. Organized by bodies of work, network of disability arts and culture.
It did not know disabled artists specifically. And during the festival, I came out as a disabled person and the experience was very much like what Riva described earlier when she was showing her work, running into these cool people and be like, I do not have to explain my disability anymore! They get it.
They talk to me about the artistic choices, that I made in my art, and it's not about like avoiding disability or rejecting disability. But like what â€“ it's more like what my mentor, Carrie, had said.
It's about disability flavors. The conversation, it flavors the things we do as artists, it's like part of our style so I was really excited I get to hang out with these cool people.
And of course, part of me was pretty frightened because I did not think I could have this community. So, in many ways, I have always looked up to Riva and I just remember right before I left Chicago for Taiwan, she told me, you know, "Tell your stories. Just focus on who you are, you are not trying to convince people. You are not trying to, like, make them believe in anything, but just be who you are." So, that really stayed with me.
I do feel honoured if people see, there are parallels between your work, and I feel it, she is my star. (Laughs) I think your work has helped me to see the images that I wish I saw earlier. In my life. I know that Riva can talk about this how disabled people are not represented in the fine arts world, not in a way that we would like.
And I think I also want to connect this to, like, the question of what is powerful? And I think what's powerful about us creating disability art is it encompasses all aspects, including, you know, the vulnerable aspect, it includes pain, it includes â€“ there are days I do not want to do anything.
It is really about, like, not trying to convince the nondisabled world about our value. And I think it's about many things, and having agency. Yeah! So, I do find earlier on, my work was about trying to convince people that I am capable, I can do this, I can do things just as well as people with five fingers.
But I think the more â€“ and the longer I am in disability community, and our community, I feel like I'm making art for my people. So, a lot of time at this like, I want to share my work and it's very much how I'm seeing that, Riva is creating workable disability. We can only do as a community.
When I first met Sandie she told me some pretty harrowing stories, which I will not repeat. About how she was treated as a young woman. A teenager, and a young woman, in Taiwan.
And I think in the mainland, too. Nope. Could not remember. Things that broke my heart. And I saw in front of me this woman who had come through that, and had found her way â€“ it could not have been easy with the kind of messages you got to step into something like the disability Art and culture Festival. That must've taken a pretty deep breath.
And yet right from the beginning, your work was so poetic. That is what really killed me. You know, I have seen a lot of young artists and emerging artists start to deal with impairments. But your work from the beginning was very assured and very poetic.
I think it has continued that way. I think sometimes, technique â€“ you have touched on an interesting thing. The way the technique is so obsessive, there are various reasons, partly it is to prove, oh, look I can do things. I can do something well. Your work is very beautifully crafted.
I think there is a bridge therebetween as of late, craft as this way of -- seeking dignity, or parity or something. We love it for its own sake, but it produces an unexpected, "Oh!" In our audience. Which is too bad, really. That it has to be like, "Oh! You can do this."
But I think that you use that kind of surprise to really good effect. And as I said earlier, we are both really concerned with intimacy, trust, and community. My frustration was-in love with portraiture back when I was in the art school in the 1970s.
I hated I never saw any images of people like me, it was weird. Yes, I hated it and I was also relieved because I hated who I was. It would've helped me tremendously if disabled people were shown as beautiful in the history of art. We were not so where there is longing and dread at the same time, it took a long time to get past the dread and get to the longing.
I wonder for you, do you have some it like that where it's like, yes, I wanted, no I don't? In your early work, at least.
Yes. Spot on, I was thinking â€“ I was so scared to take classes in fashion department, because I was like, I don't know what to do. I started drawing pretty clothes when I was little, and thought about how I want to be a fashion designer.
As soon as I got into college, I was like, inner beauty matters, right? (Laughs) I was really conflicted. I want to be beautiful, but I think deep inside me, like, I could not feel that way. That's how internalized ableism works. It's like, no, perhaps I should do something more from the inside.
That is why I did not go into the fashion department because I was scared. I was also thinking that I did not want to design something beautiful according to, like, everybody loves this type of beauty! I was not into it. Even though I was not sure what I was looking for.
Eventually, I think I was looking for the rawness of a disability. So, a lot of times conflicting. It's like, I can say... I did not like the way that people stared at me, since I was little. But that actually trained me a skill to be very observant, so, like Riva pointed out, we use these and make it work.
And perhaps a part of it comes with, like, the expectations that -- we need to show you something you are good at to see you as valuable beings. At the same time, I like challenging myself with different stitches. The negative spaces between my hands, or the shape, and how I interact with tools, it's like, I love the tactile quality.
So, yeah it is my passion, too. I do push myself hard, you know, when I was making metalworking, and using different tools, and hammers, and each time it is an internal dialogue. Am I picking up this tool to show people that I can actually do it? And coming back to myself like, why do I have to go to these questions every time?
And why are we expected to just, like, prove, prove, and I think later on it's like, you know what? I am going to focus on the specific concept I'm working on. There are a lot of internal dialogues that take place in the art making.
Thank you. I jumped in because we got some questions. They relate to exactly what you are both talking about now. One question â€“ can you share what habits or visuals you participate in to develop such inner clarity?
We also got a question, how do you fight ableism? I will add a little piece to it, what I'm hearing about your conflicts when you are thinking about what tools and how you create, is this potentially ableism we hold within ourselves. I just want to offer if you have anything to add going over the questions, or Riva if you wanted to continue that discussion.
So, the question is: how do you fight ableism?
I was just thinking, you were addressing this ableism that sometimes we carry in ourselves. And that makes us question certain things, you know, the struggle that sometimes that can present.
I will tell a story about something Sandie and I were both involved in. There was a show before COVID, in BC at the Audrey house museum, of (Unknown Name) who is that Nigerian artist, think, installation and... fiber ceramics based art. Brilliant, and disabled. And one of my personal go to, stellar artists right now.
There was a show at the house, and there was a discussion of their art at the MCA with the curator, and a couple from the MCA. And Sandie and I and a couple of our other friends went to it, and the discussion was both left disability out of the room, but when they got around to it, the comment I really remember as they were talking about the fact that they work with a crew.
The curator said he is forced to work with a crew because of his disability. Now, almost every artist these days, working on large-scale, works with a crew. They constructed his use of a crew as something slightly pathetic. And surely, he would not have to do that if he was able-bodied.
By the time they ended up finishing talking, we were in tears. And in rage. When the Q&A started, we were all standing up and saying, what are you doing? Like, people know me in that crowd. And they probably know Sandie too. If I'm getting pissed off at MCA creators, I'm burning some bridges. (Laughs) You know? They may never think of me ever for anything.
But I was so angry. It was more important to me, to us, to point to that audience what was going on that... certainly nobody else addressed, until we did. And when we did, all these other people were standing up and raising their hands and talking about the ableism in the conversation. Is that what you remember, too? Comments like behind us, and stuff? People I did not know?
A little bit. I think what hurt from the conversation was, I think the curators, or at least the speakers on stage were pointing out, oh, we do not want to talk about his disability. That something in private. Yeah, I think they said something in private.
Yeah, they did.
Well, have you heard about the term disability aesthetics? (Laughs)
You know, fighting ableism â€“ you cannot stand on a roof and go, I shall fight ableism! Something happens. Right? Something happens and you make a decision about how you engage with the world, or you have a feeling that is a bad feeling, and may be art able to take it apart. And say, oh, I'm feeling this way because of how I'm treated or something that happened a year or 10 years ago, I did not have to feel this way.
I always like to talk about â€“ I showed that portrait of Nomy Lamm and many years ago when Nomy lived here she showed me an essay she wrote, she doesn't remember and she's like, I do not remember she voted when she was like 17. The essay said that she had become really politicized. And that she understood what was going on with ableism.
But you want to say that it does not mean it stopped hurting. You can be as political as, you know, you can be a flaming torch.
When something happens or a bad memory happens, you have to forgive yourself. If you are still hurt. If all of your, sort of, analysis and politics and aesthetics still are not -- thick enough or established enough, for those things not to hurt. That is true for a lot of us who are political.
You know, if someone attacks your race, you may have as much race theory as you can possibly have. But maybe that little bit of pain is the molten â€“ adds a little bit to the molten core. It's not like, oh, I will not feel that. It's, oh, right! This is painful. That is why I have to fight this.
This is Risa. I cannot believe we are basically at closing time. I know! I feel like we could listen to you talk for several hours. We will end on time. We are so, so incredibly grateful to have both of you join us today.
I know you cannot see the chat, Riva, but the appreciation for both of you is so, so strong. And we will add it to the list of those, I am grateful you are in Chicago with us. So, thank you to all of you who joined us, and supported this program.
And as promised, we are giving away 10 copies of 'Golem Girl'. I will email you tomorrow â€“ yes. Riva is showing a cover of the book right now. If your names are Steve, Mary Daniel, Jesse Montanaro, Ingrid, David, Cheryl Miller, Barbara, and amelia, and others, I will email you tomorrow and we will get the book to you, I'm so grateful to have you here.
Before we conclude, a few announcements: if you would like to continue to produce accessible events like these, please consider contributing to the program at W www.disabilitylead.org/donate and stay engaged with us, follow us on social media, or Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, to learn more about our work. And when we announce future events like this.
Again, we cannot thank you enough for your time and your talent. Today and always. So, have a good night everyone! Thank you.
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