Thursday, December 8

Ohio art exhibit explores intersection of chronic illness, disability, identity & creativity

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A new Ohio art exhibit is exploring the work of artists experiencing chronic illness and/or disability. 

W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve in Cleveland showcases nine evocative Ohio artists living with disabilities or illnesses, all of whom are identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or are women – a testament to the diversity of populations impacted by these conditions.

Curated by Megan Alves and Mindy Tousley, the remarkable show features a wide array of dynamic creations from paintings to video performances, touchable sculptures and interactive digital installations.

W/O Limits also features a variety of accessibility measures including braille text, a wheelchair friendly layout, and a selection of touchable sculptures for those with sensory sensitivities and visual impairments.

To learn more about the importance of this exhibit, The Buckeye Flame spoke with Andrew Reach, an out Ohio artist who was commissioned to make one of the accessible pieces for the show. 

How is the intersection between disability and chronic illness brought out in your art?
The fact that I deal with chronic pain, the art is a therapy. I express myself through my art as a proxy for a side of me that wants to be able to move through the world with energy and without constriction and pain. The works of art I create are my alter egos in a sense; they become an expression of many things: joy, freedom, movement and energy. 

I work in the genre of geometric abstraction and the pieces I do always have two sides; they are very rigid in a sense and I use a grid a lot to construct my pieces. I also use the color in my pieces as a freeing experience, to dissolve the rigidity a bit. 

When looking at my piece “Ten Boxes on a Box,” the idea behind this piece is an example of how my disability intersects with my creativity. I have experienced depression and anxiety at times from dealing with the pain. This art is about balance, all the boxes are balancing on top of each other. They look like they might topple over but they don’t. This is how I approach every day, by trying to find balance between the pain I am in and the need to be creative.

How does your sexual orientation add another layer to your art?
For me, it’s more about creating and keeping myself in a good headspace to get through each day. I am living my life as a proud member of the LGBTQ community. I do have a piece at the LGBT Community Center as they wanted something on the wall that was beautiful and full of energy. That’s how I approach it. I take a more abstract approach that doesn’t deal directly with the LGBTQ experience. 

W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability (Photo credit: Stuart Allen Pearl)

What does it mean to you to have your art be in this exhibit?
This is very special to me to be included in this exhibit. It was a brilliant thing to get together a group of artists who experience illness or disability to be in an art exhibit. I don’t think people think a lot about people who make art who are disabled.  I think this exhibit brings awareness to the issues and to how disability and illness can really be a positive catalyst for creativity. This exhibition shows that disability and illness aren’t a barrier, but rather a motivator. 

I was really pleased that this exhibit had made the pieces accessible to be viewed by those who are disabled. For example, they put braille placards so that visually impaired people could read the artist statements, bios and titles of the artwork. They had tactile art and art that was at a lower level to provide access to individuals in wheelchairs.

The sculpture that I did for the exhibit was a tactile art piece. I did a little research about what helped visually impaired people see certain aspects. I made a piece of art that was fun and accessible for the visually impaired so that they could also feel it. Additionally, I used colors that were contrasting so it made it more visible. 

The exhibit was a great way to bring awareness to how people who have disabilities or chronic illnesses aren’t just sitting around. This is just a small sampling of a much wider world out there of disabled and chronically ill individuals who are creative through art. 🔥 

Ignite Action:

  • “W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability,” is on view through November 12 at Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, 1834 E. 123rd St., Cleveland. For more info, visit

About Author

Rebecca Vontroba is a future Speech-Language Pathologist who has always taken an interest in learning more about people and their stories from all around the world. She double-majored in Communication Sciences and Psychology and earned a minor in Business Management at Case Western Reserve University. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Speech-Language Pathology at Baldwin Wallace University.

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