I was born with a disability called Arthrogryposis, which is a neuromuscular disorder. I use a power wheelchair and have limited use of my arms and hands.
My disability requires me to use my mouth to make work instead of my hands. This practice has from an early age influenced how I see the world and also how other people see me. Being disabled has forced me to pay attention to the act of seeing, which in turn has deeply affected the way I paint as well as my content.
In my animal work (images 1-3) I offer a focused gaze on animals in factory farms a reality many people close their eyes to. These paintings deal directly with oppressed bodies and to me are very much relevant to disability. Through this work I have become increasingly aware of the interconnections between the oppression of animals and the oppression of disabled people. This connection does not lie, as many people suggest to me, in my being confined to my disabled body (like an animal in a cage). Far from this, this connection centers on an oppressive value system that declares some bodies normal, some bodies broken and some bodies food. I explore this intersection in much of my work, most obviously in my painting Animals With Arthrogryposis (image 4), which is a self-portrait with other animals that also have my disability.
My newer work (images 5-8) explores visual discourses of disability, especially sideshow imagery and medical photography. These visual narratives construct disability as exotic, freakish, and horrifying, as well as pitiable, tragic and in need of cure. By interrupting this imagery with paint, I hope to challenge these narratives and present disability as something else a political issue. As a disabled person, I am interested in how my artistic practice can become “freaked” when my audience learns that I paint with my mouth versus my hands. Exploring sideshow imagery thus becomes a way for me to explore how I am perceived both as an artist and in my daily life. Similarly the medicalization of disability forms the ways in which my body and abilities are understood. By whiting-out the individuals in the medical images I am removing disability from the gaze of medicine and pathology, while simultaneously giving back privacy to the individuals in the images.
Being disabled has affected my art in more ways then I could know. I not only live in a disabled body, but I identify deeply with disability scholarship, activism, culture and disability art. Thus disability enters into my work and practice at all levels -from the making to the content to the very ways in which I see.