Leave it to Chapman’s Panthers to use creativity to break barriers surrounding cultural taboos.
, a group of Chapman alumni and independent artists, creates artwork to shed not just light, but a conversation-starting spotlight, on illness.
The group was founded in 2014 after
, a Los Angeles-based artist and sister of Chapman professor Micol Hebron, was diagnosed with brain cancer. The shocking news inspired her to reach out to Chapman alumni who make art about illness.
“I was looking for support,” Siobhan said. “I found myself looking at things differently being thrown into this new world of illness. I wanted to find people who understood the difficulty of illness, but were dealing with it in a creative, productive way.”
Siobhan found this support in alumni
’10, and artists Bettina Hubby, Daniel Leighton, Ted Meyer, Dominic Quagliozzi and Sarah SK Riley. What initially resembled a support group quickly flourished into a full-fledged artist collective and movement.
“Most of us were strangers, but found it really easy to connect over our varied experiences with doctors, hospitals, side effects and art making,” said Snyder of the group’s first meeting. “It’s been very therapeutic and inspiring to work with and alongside a group of artists that understands the experience of living with illness.”
In June, Patient Experience hosted its debut art show,
Side Effects May Include Art
, in Los Angeles. The show was a great success, with the group courageously sticking to its mission to “open the discussion on illness with art that is dark, humorous, and unflinchingly real for a conversation of sincerity and authenticity.”
At the show, the collective’s members exhibited art that reflects various experiences they’ve had with personal illness. They ended with a Q&A session where attendees asked the artists about their art and their illnesses.
“Rarely do people get a chance to ask sick people about what it’s like being sick,” said
. “But we
to share our experiences!”
Below, Chapman carries on this Q&A session with Snyder, Trumbull and Potts.
Tell us more about the inspiration behind Patient Experience.
: I was diagnosed with chronic recurrent multifocal osteomyelitis (CRMO) when I was 13. My disease causes my inflammatory system to overact and my body attacks my bones. Dealing with chronic pain has taught me to find outlets whenever possible. Art came naturally to me as a way to express myself. When I was contacted by Siobhan, I knew it was a perfect fit. Making work about my illness just made sense to me. Furthering the conversation between those who deal with pain or illness, and with those who are healthy is something I’ve always wanted to pursue.
: (When Siobhan first contacted us), I had only recently started to make work about my year-long battle with Clostridium difficile (C. diff), an increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection of the colon, and subsequent fecal microbiota transplant (FMT). I was thrilled to be connected to other artists working with the same theme—illness.
: (We) decided that there needed to be a community and discussion with artists who were fighting illnesses, and to also explore that experience in a creative way.
Why do each of you personally choose to combine illness with art?
: Art can be about life experiences. I think combining illness and art is a great way to talk about something that can be difficult to talk about. It can be a hidden thing and I find that trying to express what I have been through through art has been therapeutic.
: After being diagnosed with CRMO, my life flipped upside-down. I was extremely depressed and didn’t have a lot of people to talk to. It’s hard to find anyone who has even heard of CRMO, including doctors. I started making small collages in high school referencing my disease and the holes it creates in my bones. Art has always been a creative outlet for me, and it makes so much sense to make work about my disease. It’s so important to me that I raise awareness for rare diseases like my own, for my sake and for those around me.
: When I was at my lowest point health-wise, I found it incredibly difficult to be productive in the studio. I finally began making work again after my FMT while I was recovering from the refractory C. diff infection that I had for about a year. At first, my work was only tangentially related to my experience with illness. Eventually it became impossible not to make work about that experience. It was too big a part of my life. Most of my work has dealt with identity, so making work about my identity as a sick person didn’t feel too outside of what I was already doing. Making work about my experience has been really therapeutic. I think by sharing snippets about my experience on
helped me let go of a lot of feelings of loneliness, shame and self-pity. It also let other people in my life know that it was okay to laugh with me about how crappy being sick can be. I think making this work was inevitable…that it has helped so much with my day-to-day well-being is a really great bonus.
What messages do you hope to convey with through Patient Experience?
: My recent work focuses on using my perceptions and experiences of my recent brain surgery and recovery. One of my recent pieces tries to give a better understanding to people what diplopia might look like. Diplopia is the medical term for double vision. My current work is my attempt to inform people in a different way, through art.
: I really hope our group inspires conversation. It’s incredibly important to talk about illness, as it invades so many of our lives, both directly and indirectly. We hope to open up dialogue to communicate what it feels like to be ill—to have serious pain and to work through suffering. For those with diseases, we want to inspire people to talk and express themselves creatively, and for those who are healthy, we want to help promote a sense of understanding. We approach our work with honesty and often with a sense of humor.
: My personal goal is to remove stigma from aspects of illness that are less talked about like annoying Rx drug side effects, way too frequent trips to the doctor, gastrointestinal symptoms, etc. Before I began making work about illness and talking to other people about that experience, I felt incredibly lonely. It’s really isolating to have an extremely yucky bacterial infection (or rare disease, or probably any type of ongoing illness) that no one has heard of. I think most of us in the group have heard things like, “But you don’t look sick”—a sentiment that can lead to feelings of shame, inadequacy, frustration and anger for a lot of people suffering from an “invisible illness,” rare disease or I’m sure any affliction. So visibility/awareness is a major goal.
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