YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


PRETTY SPECIAL : Artists With Disabilities Show How They See Themselves and How They Want to Be Seen

April 08, 1993|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

The language we use to discuss disabilities has changed. Someone who can't hear or speak as you do is "hearing-impaired," not "deaf and dumb"; a child once thought to be "slow" is now "developmentally delayed."

Yes, the terms can be cumbersome, but the meaning behind them is clear, and double-edged: to foster awareness and sensitivity in those who don't have disabilities and to build critical self-esteem in those who do. That alone is worth a few extra syllables.

An exhibit at the Irvine Fine Arts Center has the same goals. Through their visual art, more than 150 children and adults, most of them disabled, are telling viewers how they see themselves and how they want to be seen. "Kids With Artabilities: An Exhibition About Ability Awareness" continues through May 2 in the center's main gallery.

Curated by IFAC's Dorrit Fitzgerald, the show features works from schools throughout Orange County, including public elementary schools and the Marden Center of Educational Therapy in Irvine. A few pieces by adults in art enrichment programs at Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa and Hope University in Anaheim also are featured, as are works by two professional artists, Arthur Rubinstein and Kathryn Besley.

Fitzgerald said she had been contemplating this exhibit for years but really kicked into gear in December 1990, after she opened "Who I Am Not," an exhibit at IFAC that featured a collection of photographs taken by homeless people.

"I was terrified of homelessness," she recalls, "but I realized through my experience (that there were other) people out there who also were afraid of what they didn't understand.

"Given cameras, these people really just talked about relationships, love. . . things we all experience as human beings. They used art as a vehicle to cross those bridges of fear."

In curating both shows, Fitzgerald said she tried to create a "loving and embracing" atmosphere for artists and viewers alike. In "Kids With Artabilities," that meant hanging works at child- and wheelchair-level when possible, posting Braille signage under every piece, even changing the name of the show (the original sub-title was "An Exhibition About Disability Awareness"; Fitzgerald dropped the "dis" because "this is not about what we can't do, but what we can do").

The art reflects that attitude. Many of the 227 works on view were created specifically to tie in with the show's theme, "I Am Special Because. . ." Shawn Miller, 15, finished that sentence with ". . .I can draw comics" and illustrated that with a drawing of vivid, fox-like super-heroes. Twelve- year-old Sheri Davis' study of a contemplative fairy-tale princess confides, "I am special because I've come through a rough time and I can still draw pretty things."

Hope University student Fred Mezzo tweaks perspective with his multicolored drawings that include "Elvis," co-created with Lori Urban, and "Masarati" and "1492 Conquest of Paradise," collaborations with Bill Ourderkerken. Other Hope students mixed paint and palm tree parts to create masks, such as Troy Bottoms' winking, banana-yellow "Priest."

Hands-on activities enhance the exhibit. One display notes that 1.2 million Americans use wheelchairs; viewers are able to try this kind of locomotion by taking a spin while tracing the chair's evolution from a bulky wicker-and-cane antique to a slick, lightweight number used for sporting events.

Children also can manipulate Braille Institute students' sound sticks (decorated tubes filled with sand and dry pasta that make a gentle shooshing sound when tilted) or dabble in a small art workshop.

According to teacher Fay Lavender-Levoy, pupils from her special day class at Wilson Elementary School in Santa Ana weren't too impressed by their debut as exhibiting artists ("most of them were more interested in the $200" top prize, she said with a laugh), but the experience did offer another, more valuable benefit.

"Most of my kids are language-handicapped," noted Lavender-Levoy, whose 13 students created multimedia fantasy masks. "Hands-on activities (such as) cooking and arts and crafts are valuable because language is only learned through experience. Art is an incredible medium to teach all kinds of things, especially to a child who is handicapped and has a low self-concept.

"They can be creative with the least amount of censorship. It's not like a test where things are right or wrong. Whatever they create is acceptable because it's their own personal expression of who they are."

Los Angeles Times Articles