by Sarah Davin
The world has a long history of excluding people with physical and intellectual disabilities from appearing in society, rendering them a largely hidden minority. Families sending disabled individuals in institutions to live invisible lives is more recent than we would like to think. Although the treatment of people with disabilities has generally improved over time, the bias remains quite real, and society often focuses on how they are deficient rather than what they have to offer.
Shockwave Magazine, an arts collective and magazine organized by the Community Developmental Services at Washington County Mental Health Services, is offering a new approach. Started in 2012, the collective aims to challenge the idea that individuals with disabilities can’t contribute to our community, a mission on display at the ongoing “Shockwave” art show at Studio Place Arts in Barre.
On display until March 17, the exhibition on the third floor of Studio Place Arts features 45 pieces of art and has ten mainstay artists, with 20 to 25 artists contributing in total.
Aron Martineau, editor of Shockwave Magazine, explained that collaborative pieces like “It Takes a Village I” and “It Takes a Village II” are created when one artist works on something, then leaves it, and another artist takes it up adds to it. “They really enjoy working with each other. They don’t really have a sense of ownership over their work,” said Martineau, ”They are really happy if someone comes along and does something. They don’t get upset.”
He went on to say that he has noticed that the artists he works with have an unusual relationship to owning their art. In the case of the “Village” pieces on display, this process happened organically with all of the artists working in the same space simultaneously over the course of a day or two. He finds that the level of cooperation he witnessed is something that he wishes others would try to aspire to.
Throughout the show, ownership is a recurring theme. Next to the display of Shockwave Magazine’s many covers is another honoring the work of a man named Clinton. Next to his works, collected in two frames, is a description of Clinton’s artistic process. He works quite meticulously on these art pieces, and then astonishingly, tears them up. Once he has finished, Clinton simply finds the continued existence of the art unnecessary. The artwork is the process and not the product.
While some of the artists are defined by their personal detachment or communal relationship to their art, other artists featured in the show have very individually expressive and bold pieces. Perhaps one of the boldest art pieces on display is “Abstract #1” and “#2” by “Paul.” As the largest single piece in the art show, consisting of two large canvases, the acrylic painting draws the viewer’s eye with its bright colors. While the one canvas is defined by compartmentalized squares, representing limitations that we have or create for ourselves, the explosion of color on the other canvas releases us from those boundaries.
This piece in many ways reflects Paul’s growth as an artist. According to Martineau, at first Paul wasn’t as invested in what Martineau offered him to paint with. Now, he chooses canvas sizes and mixes his own paints. “He has become very bold, very self-decided in how he is going to move forward with his work.”
Paul was present for the opening of the show, and it was an experience that filled him with pride over his artistic accomplishments. Joseph Mahr, team leader of the Learning Network, recalled how those who attended were blown away by the show, and the environment was one of positive affirmation. “A lot [of the artists] have never done anything that has been on display. That’s huge.”
Mary Kay Kasper, coordinator of the Learning Network and Employment Program, points out the message she wants people to take with them as they leave the exhibition, “These are people with intellectual disabilities and they are incredible artists. They are a part of our communities. We want to expose, we want them to see, the individuals who are doing this. We want them to walk away going, ‘Oh my gosh that was incredible, and I love that piece, and I want more.’ It’s about breaking down myths and misconceptions, so that they are embracing all the diversity of who we are on this planet.”
Shockwave’s next event will be a poetry reading at the Aldrich Public Library in April in honor of National Poetry Month and will feature completely new works of art.