MISSION: Chronic Pain and Illness Portraits

In a study done in 2017 it was found that over 60% of adults live with at least one chronic condition. Maybe that’s you, your parent, your child, or maybe your best friend but they’ve never told you. How many chronic conditions can you name? How many of those can you describe?

 

Developing a chronic condition takes away the agency you have over your own life. It's confusing, often painful, maybe embarrassing or debilitating at times. The added layer of many conditions being essentially invisible to most makes for a frustrating battle with ableism, stereotypes, and at times outright disbelief from others that any such condition is even being experienced.

In our culture there is rarely space to talk about pain or discomfort.

 

Having spent several years finding comfort from my own chronic pain in my self-portraits, I began creating portraits of other people suffering with chronic conditions. I have worked with many different people of all ages and backgrounds. Each demographic and each person faces a unique set of difficulties that make each portrait varied on many levels.

 

In order to create these portraits I have a several-step interview process. The voice of the subject is ultimately the most important piece to me here, so I begin by going through a loose, two page questionnaire that allows me to hear various aspects of their journey. E.g. When did your symptoms begin? Do you have a diagnosis? How has it affected your mental health and relationships with others? Etc.. I think this is one of the most crucial parts. Almost every person I’ve talked to has shared with me that they have never had anyone ask them about their conditions and really listen and care about what they had to say. There’s opportunity for catharsis just in that.

 

After the informal interview I have the subject sit for a video interview highlighting some of the major things we discussed. I think this is crucial in allowing the subjects to quite literally have a voice of their own in the project. I have strong visions of visual metaphors for my self-portraits. I do my best to guide the people I’m working with through a process where they can come up with their own idea of how to visualize their symptoms in a way that feels genuine and authentic to them. I want them to leave the project feeling seen and heard, and having a visual articulation of their condition that allows perhaps for more understanding from the people around them, as well as personal validation of what can at times be a frustratingly intangible struggle.

 

 

Each time I exhibit this project I hope it to have a three-layered impact: that it may provide a therapeutic and cathartic experience for the people in the paintings, for viewers with chronic conditions to feel seen and represented, and to increase social consciousness and compassion around these conditions and what it’s like to live with them.