Out of more than 120 submissions from high schools and colleges across the country, 15 emerging artists with disabilities were selected to showcase their works at the Ripley Center, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The chosen pieces embody the theme “Momentum” and examine the force that drives their artistic interests. VSA (the international organization on arts and disability) and Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., partnered to give artists ages 16-25 a chance not only to exhibit their art but to finance their pursuit the arts as a career, with over $60,000 in prize money awarded to those selected.
Grand Prize winner Dimelza Broche says that “being in a wheelchair has stopped me from physically going places, but it hasn’t stopped me from traveling to the unexplored places in my subjects’ minds.” Broche has osteogenesis imperfecta, which is a genetic disorder characterized by extremely fragile bones. Her painting, Soul Reader, immediately connects with viewers as the subject peers directly out of the canvas and seemingly into their very thoughts, reading secrets hidden deep in their souls.
Krista Kuskye, whose photograph titled Union Station, Indiana, is a symbolic representation of the daily pain she faces living with fibromyalgia, talks about finding art to be like therapy. “It takes my mind off the pain and into an alternative world . . . I can’t help but to reflect on who inspired me the most.” The haunting black and white image of a crumbling interior of a building represents her pain, as well as confusion and loss, while the light shining through open doors or windows symbolizes a means of moving forward.
Xi Nan, a native of China who uses her own personal recipe for glass-like porcelain clay to create delicate ceramic pieces, was initially frustrated with the learning process of art making. Watching her first batches crack or melt during the firing paralleled her own struggles through years of physical therapy as a child, due to a disability in both her legs and right hand. She reflects, “I have learned to be strong and perseverant in the journey of making my art works; no risk, no miracle.”
“My challenges are capabilities most people take for granted,” says Jansen Smith, a printmaker who likes to explore using unconventional materials such as tobacco as ink. “Ability is the root word in disability. I feel cerebral palsy has enhanced my creative ability.” Smith’s art work exhibited in “Momentum,” which includes one silkscreened image done by his left hand and the same done by his right (the side affected by cerebral palsy), reflects the inconsistency of the two sides of his body. He wants the viewer to witness these manifestations of his disability as an aid, not a hindrance to his creative process.
“Momentum” has been on display since September 7, 2011 and will continue through January 22, 2012. VSA’s programs are built on principals that include every young person with a disability deserving access to high quality arts learning experiences and all people with disabilities who aspire to careers in the arts having the opportunity to develop their skills. For more information about VSA and “Momentum,” visit their website or go here.