Arts & Culture

See Me Hear Art

Winnipeg artists crush disability stigma

Winnipeg artists like Yvette Cenerini are working to reduce the stigma surrounding those with disabilities by making art. The Art + Body: See Me Hear festival is an exhibition of work by local artists with disabilities.

Cenerini has quadriplegia and uses a wheelchair. She held her first ever artist talk on Sept. 22 at St. Boniface Library. About 15 people sat in the audience as she described her newest painting, To Hear Birds Sing.

“I think it’s about celebrating diversity and recognizing the special place that artists with special needs have in the art world because they have a different perspective on life,” Cenerini said. She said because of her disability it can take her up to 45 minutes to get her pallet ready to paint.

“I have a ratchet splint that straps my arm and my fingers and puts them in sort of a writing position so I can just slide a paintbrush in there,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how you get the paintbrush to touch the canvas as long as it’s applying the paint, that’s all that matters.”

This is the second year the Arts & Disability Network of Manitoba (ADNM) has held this festival, which opened Sept. 15.

Cenerini’s painting, To Hear Birds Sing, is based on Jonah Gagnon, a 10-year-old with a hearing impairment. He sat in the audience with his parents during her talk.

“It’s moving and it’s kind of reflective and it’s interesting to understand how Yvette connects with it,” said Jonah’s mother, Rae Gagnon. “Her challenges are different than ours but there’s a commonality between the situations.”

The word “disability” doesn’t sit well with Jonah.

“I don’t like it because it makes me feel like somebody will make fun of me” he said.

Cenerini acknowledges there is a stigma towards people with disabilities.

“It’s really challenging because I know that there are a lot more artists out there in Winnipeg who have disabilities who don’t join [ADNM] because they don’t want to be associated with [the stigma],” said Cenerini.

ADNM’s chairperson, Susan Lamberd wants to change the way people see artists with disabilities.

“People forget that there is that component of the world that’s being ignored. We’re here, we’re creative. We’ve got a lot of talent,” she said.

The festival will move to the Plug-In Institute of Contemporary Art Thursday, Oct. 10 and then to The Winnipeg Art Gallery on Friday, Oct. 11. Christine Sun Kim, a sound artist from New York, will headline the shows. Both events are open to the public.