As an artist with a disability, my personal journey towards self-acceptance is ongoing. While many individuals are engaged in this quest, the process of establishing a positive self image is a particular challenge for those of us who are different. I have dealt with physical disability since I was nine months old when I contracted polio. Until recently I studiously avoided focusing my work on any aspect of living with permanent mobility limitations.
My first foray into making art that publicly confronted my own disability was in a 2005 Agnes Scott College exhibition. Curator Lisa Alembik invited me to be part of limbs heart tongue & teeth, a display of contemporary art about how the body moves through the world. The experience was pivotal. In drawing and exhibiting an image of my leg brace I examined and exposed very real issues connected with my own identity while alluding to the props that many of the physically disabled require for mobility. I have always been intimately aware of such devices, but, until then, had studiously avoided publicly acknowledging that one had been forever attached to my life.
Since that exhibition I have felt compelled to make art that directly confronts precisely the issues I had previously avoided. Access, inclusion, mobility limitations and personal identity as a woman with a disability have become the focus of my work. I have expanded my media to adopt video to inform and better document my new exploration.
Wheelchair Diaries (2007 to present) grew out of this “shift in conscience.” This video project is an ongoing visual record of my encounters with the cityscape and the people in it. With my camera attached to my wheelchair, I capture, and then communicate, the freedom I have to navigate from one place to another; the perspective I gain by moving through the world in a seated position; the unexpected hurdles I face; and the discoveries I make along the way.
The work is exciting for me, allowing me to work with a wonderful group of video artists and a really superb video editor who truly understands the overarching goal of the projects because he also deals with disability. Wheelchair Diaries has garnered amazing responses from the press, the arts community, my colleagues and some civic leaders. But what thrills me the most is the fact that people from all walks of life who have seen the project have told me how my perspective made them think in a new way. In creating Wheelchair Diaries, I have taken on the role of aesthetic activist: my work has begun to open eyes, alter opinions, and hopefully effect change.
I am convinced that through this work I have an opportunity to make a difference and I believe the time is now.