STILL I RISE
This series explores loss, memory, and disability. It is inspired by my experience as a burn survivor. At the age of twenty, I was trapped in an apartment fire and jumped four stories to the ground in order to escape flames. My resultant injuries left me temporarily dependent on a number of medical devices including the ones depicted here: a wheelchair, back brace, and crutches. When I lost my mobility at a young age I was forced to reckon with a new physical reality as well as cultural stereotypes surrounding ability/disability. The paintings are sparse in order to direct the viewer’s attention to the lone objects and the emptiness of the space. The human presence is felt, not seen, and opens the door for the viewer to reflect on their assumptions about what it means to rely on such symbolic equipment. Although my own dependence on these objects was filled with grief and isolation, it is important that these paintings communicate a sense of hope and agency. The glittering light that illuminates each scene is my way of honoring what these objects make possible for the folks who need them. The lack of a visible human subject allows the viewer to see the objects as both apart from, but also integral, to the identity of the individual.
The self portrait begins the current narrative moment. Recovery from severe trauma is lifelong; however, people with visible burn scars experience daily reminders of our injury when we look in the mirror or when others reflect or comment on our “unusual” appearance. Such moments force a reckoning between the past trauma and the present healing, the past and present selves or the internal and external selves. Anyone who inhabits a physical “difference” that deviates from our hegemonic ideal of beauty must negotiate their worth in this context. What is most salient for my personal experience is that I can choose when and where to show my scars. Not all burn survivors have this choice; quite often, we are filled with shame and choose to live with our scars in private. I have chosen to draw myself, scars and all, in an attempt to upset my urge to run and hide. By describing the true nature of my skin I am asserting my value in being seen and the inherent value in all lived physical realities.