“Inspired Bodies” art exhibit explores individuality, disability through resilience

By Julia Gastwirth

The “Inspired Bodies” exhibit, which will be on display until Oct 31. at Maryland Meadworks in Hyattsville, features works curated by local artists Hannah Chertock and Alice Gardner-Bates, as well as works created by artists in the DMV area, all of which are inspired or influenced by physical or mental disability and chronic illness or pain.

The concept for the “Inspired Bodies” exhibit — the celebration of disability awareness and the resilience of the human body — came to fruition when Hannah Chertock and Alice Gardner-Bates met at the National Museum of Women in the Arts two years ago when Chertock was presenting some of her work there. 

Gardner-Bates said she immediately wanted to talk to Chertock, after viewing her body-focused artwork which centers around anatomy and disability. The pair quickly found common ground in the personal hardships they’d each endured due to their respective disabilities. 

Though Chertock and Gardner-Bates’s disabilities are different in nature, they both shared that being disabled has precluded them from being hired as artists — something they believe that many artists in the disabled community face.

“Tech n Trans,” a digital print on display by H. Rodgers.

“We focused on that [this lack of opportunity for disabled artists] as a problem,” Gardner-Bates said. “And what a better solution for that would look like.”

Chertock’s younger sister, Marlena Chertock, who is also part of the disability community, read her poetry at the exhibit. Marlena has two published books of poetry, including “Crumb-sized,” which details her experiences living with skeletal dysplasia, a rare bone disorder. 

Aimee Becker, another artist at the exhibit, had photos displayed of her doing Burlesque, a sensual style of dance, at a D.C. theater. Becker began doing Burlesque at her alma mater, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and now performs to raise awareness chronic bronchitis and cyclothymia, which according to Becker, is like a “like baby bipolar disorder.” 

In the photos displayed, Becker is almost fully nude with various words written across her skin that illustrate negative qualities people have attributed to her due to her cyclothymic disorder. 

Though she admits she was initially afraid to do Burlesque, Becker said she would encourage others to do it, as it helped her to overcome some of her own insecurities. 

“I don’t ever do anything that is sexy at all,” Becker said. “I like to make people uncomfortable or make people laugh.”

Senior engineering major Adith Thummalapalli said the exhibit is a great event to showcase the various ways people use their own hobbies to start the conversation about accessibility. 

“It’s ironic that the concept of discussing accessibility is oftentimes inaccessible to people,” Thummalapalli, who performs standup comedy that often features sketches on his own disabilities, said.“ I just try to make that conversation easier and more natural using humor.”

The “Inspired Bodies” exhibit is a passion project for Chertock. It stems from her own experiences with chronic pain, including when she got her hip replaced three years ago. 

“That was probably the time that I was in the most pain,” Chertock said. “But it also taught me how amazing and resilient bodies are, and it transformed my outlook on bodies. I came to a place of love and appreciation for what my body can do rather than how it was limiting me.”

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