Since 2002, the Kennedy Center and Volkswagen Group of America have teamed up for the VSA Emerging Young Artists Program, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program, to recognize and showcase the work of emerging young artists living with disabilities, ages 16-25, who are currently residing in the United States. (Re)Invention gives fifteen young artists the opportunity to display their work in venues across the nation.
(Re)Invention presents artists whose work exemplifies themes of renewal and self-discovery. From the unexpected whimsy of an animation, to a bold series of self-portraits, this work engages, challenges, and delights us. Collectively, these works of art captivate us on many levels: we are asked to explore ideas of self, community, legacy, and collective memory.
With this traveling exhibition, we aim to give visibility to the work of artists with disabilities throughout the United States, positioning them to broaden our understanding of disability and the arts and to create new contexts. These fifteen artists give us examples of how art can be used to rewrite a personal narrative. They are present in their community and in the world, and are motivated to use their creativity to send a strong message of inclusion and unity in the arts.
I’m Not Here For You To Taunt
Monica Chulewicz, Grand Prize
I’m Not Here For You To Taunt, 2016
Cyanotype prints on vintage dress (90 in x 35 in)
Monica Chulewicz is a Polish-American artist who was born and raised in New York. A printmaker and collagist, she uses vintage found materials in both digital and traditional hand-printing processes. Chulewicz was born with a progressive disease that has caused several secondary illnesses, and uses her chronic health issues as a means of inspiration for her work.
The cast of anonymous women depicted in I’m Not Here For You To Taunt represent collected memories from un-known histories, and evoke a continuum of loss and renewal throughout the generations. Chulewicz experiments with fiction of the past, using vintage photographs to create dialogues between memory and time, and address themes of existence, fragility, and mortality.
Chulewicz earned a BFA from Adelphi University in 2013. She currently lives and works in New York.
Soft Machine 1
Victoria Dugger, First Prize
Soft Machine 1, 2015
Encaustic, nylon, brick (12 in x 18 in x 32 in)
Unflinching and direct, Victoria Dugger’s work confronts us with a duality of beauty and the grotesque through sculpture that heavily distorts the human body. Soft Machine 1 is part of a series exploring tropes of disability, sexuality, and fear of the unknown through figurative shapes that are unsettling recognizable, yet still very foreign.
Through this series, Dugger, who uses a wheelchair, aims to reinvent and restructure the body as seen by common societal perceptions and expectations. Her art at once questions the imagery and stereotypes associated with beauty and disability, and pushes us to rethink our own projected narratives of the disadvantaged.
Dugger earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Sculpture from Columbus State University in 2016, and continues to create art from her hometown of Columbus, Georgia.
Kate Pincus-Whitney, Second Prize
Getting Ready, 2015
Acrylic, woodcut, ink and gesso, on canvas (36 in x 48 in)
Born and raised in southern California, Kate Pincus-Whitney celebrates portraiture and the theater of the dinner table in her narrative paintings and multi-media installations. Her art is informed by her experience of navigating the world with dyslexia and stereo-blindness: female forms, table scenes, food, patterns, color, and abstracted and misspelled words are recurring motifs woven into her work. Pincus-Whitney aims to synthesize social and political themes of identity with visual memory and personal histories. She sees herself as an “artist anthropologist,” following and celebrating the thread of women in her family history, depicting female strength, resilience, and creativity.
Pincus-Whitney is a 2016 graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she focused on visual and performance art. She is currently working as an artist, and divides her time between New York and California.
Mara Clawson, Award of Excellence
To Survive, 2016
The vibrant strokes of color in Mara Clawson’s To Survive waver separately, before coming together to form the whimsical and thoughtful imagery that accompanies her narrative. As the video unfolds, we see that the growth of images mirrors the artist’s own progression toward greater self-sufficiency. Clawson has familial dysautonomia, a neurogenetic disorder that affects her autonomic and sensory nervous systems. Through creating art, she has found a profound sense of self, stating, “Making art makes me who I am.”
Clawson attended the Ivymount School in Potomac, Maryland and the Katherine Thomas School in Rockville, Maryland. She currently produces her artworks at Art Enables in Washington, D.C., and in her home studio.
Courtney Wynn Cooper
Courtney Wynn Cooper, Award of Excellence
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas (50 in x 36 in)
Born and raised in Mountain View, California, Courtney Cooper’s work is subtly complicated by texture, and typically focuses on one or two central shapes. While the images themselves come across as minimal and uncomplicated, the process of creating them is not. Cooper treats each painting as an equation in need of a solution. As she begins her first sketches, patterns and rules of perspective begin to emerge that she gradually builds upon to create the finished piece. In a response to finding herself anxious and overstimulated, Cooper often imagines stepping into her canvasses, escaping into a somewhat disorienting world of non-conformity. She is interested in the space between what is wrong and right, saying, “You can stay longer with something in a state of perplexity than in a state of total clarity.”
Cooper currently studies Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland.
Christine Driscoll, Award of Excellence
Pup Art, 2015
Christine Driscoll, who is on the autism spectrum, was born in Yokohama, Japan and grew up in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. In 2015 she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation from Savannah College of Art and Design, where she wrote, directed, and animated Pup Art, leading a team of 17 students to create the final product. The short film was inspired by the antics of Driscoll’s own dog, Rocky, and gives a playful look into the creative process. Her style is loose, gestural, and inspired by the work of classic animators such as Glen Keane and Carlos Grangel.
When she is not collaborating on projects as a 2D animator and storyboard artist, Driscoll creates 3D found-object sculptures, and is an active contributor to online art communities. Her goal is to make film adaptations of her written stories using different techniques, including CGI and Stop-Motion, as well as 2D animation.
Same Shame Smell
Nicholas Fagan, Award of Excellence
Same Shame Smell, 2016
House paint, spray paint on canvas (36 in x 24 in)
Nicholas Fagan creates abstract imagery that deals with symbolism, disability, and language. His experience with dyslexia and dysgraphia has led him to devise a unique system for understanding the written word. Fagan ascribes meaning to the shape of the word itself, rather than its individual letters, and has trained himself to recognize these symbols as stand-ins for objects or concepts. He uses this technique in Same Shame Smell, saying, “I lay words on top of each other and allow their shapes, not the actual words, to convey the visual message.”
A native of Herndon, Virginia, Fagan is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at The Ohio State University. He lives and works in Columbus, Ohio.
The Feet 1996
Benjamin Gibbs, Award of Excellence
The Feet 1996, 2016
Inkjet print (14 in x 11 in)
Introspective yet quietly objective, Gibbs’ work places at its center his experience living with cerebral palsy through self-portraiture. The Feet 1996 is one of those rare examples of the genre where the body itself is absent, yet what we see is just as intimate, if not more, than if the artist were depicted. This work is part of a series called Three Point Perspective that explores perceived perspectives on disabilities from the people Gibbs interacts with on a daily basis—strangers, close friends, and family—before ultimately giving us insight into how the artist sees himself. The Feet 1996 is the first in the series, and is meant to convey the isolation Gibbs feels when people define him by the objects he uses in daily life.
Benjamin Gibbs was born and raised in northern Virginia, and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in photography from Longwood University.
Harrison Halker Heinks
Harrison Halker Heinks, Award of Excellence
Inkjet print (24 in x 18 in)
Harrison Halker Heinks uses photography as a means to establish himself in the world. He states, “People have a tendency to ignore me because I have a disability. One way I see myself existing in this world is by capturing my reflection in everyday scenarios.”
Reminiscent of twentieth-century street photographers like Lee Friedlander and Vivian Maier, Heinks inserts himself subtly yet deliberately in his images through shadow and reflection. He explains that this type of self-representation illustrates his life with autism, in that he feels caught in another plane that runs parallel to the world in which everyone else lives. As he looks at the images he creates, Heinks places himself in a new, shared, context beyond the window, saying, “By looking at my work, I am present in their world. Being present is what motivates me to create.”
Heinks attends Edina High School in Edina, Minnesota, and creates his art at Upside Right Studios.
Still from HOMELAND
Zàira Lee, Award of Excellence
Still from HOMELAND, 2016
Inkjet print (36 in x 24 in)
A trained pole dancer and poet from Oakland, California, Zàira Lee’s art interweaves ancestral stories of oppression through video and performance art. Her current work explores ideas of ceremony and social justice, and seeks to honor past, present, and future histories of gender and sexual violence through ritual pole dance. The pole is a conduit to these experiences, and acts as a source of empowerment for Lee, who lives with anxiety and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The photograph seen here is a still from HOMELAND, a collaborative video piece in which a blindfolded Lee leaves a violent past and returns to a decolonized home.
Lee graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies and a focus on carceral geographies and human rights. She lives and works in Oakland, California.
Jeremie Austin Miller
Jeremie Austin Miller, Award of Excellence
Primary Bowls, 2016
Ceramic, fiber (approx. 4 in x 4.5 in x 4 in each)
Created using both hand building and wheel throwing techniques, Jeremie Austin Miller’s work often challenges the viewer with provocative statements. For example, his vibrantly colored Japanese-style tea bowls are at odds with the fiber bowls, which are made from over $500 in shredded US currency. Through contrasting the traditional with the unexpected, Miller’s work starts a conversation about usefulness, intent, context, and privilege. The process of creating art allows Miller to better understand himself and others with mental illness, and to communicate to the broader community his often complex and abstract ideas.
Miller studies at the University of Kansas, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in art with a concentration in ceramics.
Abigail Nash, Award of Excellence
Clean Break, 2016
Oil on canvas (44 in x 35 in)
The sensitive and intimate rendering of detail is something Abigal Nash takes very seriously. As an artist with low vision, objects even at a short distance are indistinct and become difficult to translate into paintings. By bringing the animal bone within her range of vision and using a brush the size of the tip of a pen, Nash created the detailed and intimate still life seen here; the colors and textures in Clean Break invoke the many-colored Texas Hill Country landscape from which the bone came.
Nash is passionate about bringing accessibility to the arts. A native of Mason, Texas, she studies both studio art and political science at Southwestern University.
Alexandra Novess, Award of Excellence
Heart Strings, 2015
Acrylic, granite, violin strings on canvas (28 in x 18 in)
Alexandra Novess’ abstract mixed-media paintings are meant to make the viewer feel a subtle intrusion. In Heart Strings, she uses violin strings to illustrate the fluid and unpredictable motion of many mental and neurological conditions; the rough granite pieces are reminders to stay grounded during times of unease.
Novess’ own experience with a sleep disorder surfaces in the sinuous structure of her work. Her paintings, with their organic materials and multiple layers, function as a timeline, and give structure to the places where her memory is affected by sleep deprivation. She believes that the more we acknowledge and try to understand the prevalence of hidden disabilities, the better equipped we are to address something that so deeply affects our modern society.
Novess lives in Austin, Texas, and hopes to pursue a master’s degree in psychology and statistics.
Spaces in NYC, Crown Heights, Kingston Avenue Station
Alice Shockey, Award of Excellence
Spaces in NYC, Crown Heights, Kingston Avenue Station, 2015
Lithographic prints (8.5 in x 12 in each)
Alice Shockey uses photography and multimedia installations to study different iterations of demarcated space, both within communities and within the body. Her work looks at the personal and minute, as well as the interpersonal and broad-reaching. For example,
Shockey uses her art to reclaim her relationship with her body in the context of her experience with chronic Lyme disease, as it displaces her sense of self and normalcy. In other instances, such as in Spaces in NYC, Crown Heights, Kingston Avenue Station, she comments on issues of boundaries, displacement, and community geography. Some of her broadest-reaching work looks at the visible and invisible forces that shape a community as seen through the lens of her family’s history as survivors of the Holocaust.
Shockey is a 2016 graduate from Oberlin College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art. She plans to continue a process of artistic advocacy and self-discovery.
I Wish I Was Perfectly Happy
Darryl Terrell, Award of Excellence
I Wish I Was Perfectly Happy, 2015
Inkjet print (triptych, 36 in x 24 in)
I Wish I Was Perfectly Happy is a very personal exploration of body image, black masculinity, queer identity, and disability. Pulling from influences he observed growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Darryl Terrell’s art is a reflection of black family structure and popular culture, asking “What is American blackness? How does it look?” Terrell’s triptych examines the black, femme, and queer bodies as separate categories living within the same identity, and how they occupy space in the American landscape. Terrell’s mission is to educate; he states, “I want my art to build dialogue. I want people to look at [my work] and really think and question.”
Terrell is a Queer African-American artist whose primary practice is photography. Currently based in Chicago, Illinois, he is a pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.