Social Norm on Disability Broken by Innovative New Exhibit

Sophomore Melissa Corning, in front of her entirely recyclable exhibit. / Jane Silverstein

Students started discussions on disability and binary thinking at a sensory art opening put on by a dual-degree sophomore student at the Women’s Center on Feb. 16.

The pieces hung up on the wall were exclusively made from recyclable material. The most innovative pieces included bubble wrap and cardboard. Visitors were encouraged to touch the art, which creator Melissa Rose Corning said she did not originally intend to show.

“It didn’t start off as a form of activism,” she said. Ideally, Corning also said she is hoping to inspire people to continue the conversation about disability and work toward making a change toward a more inclusive society. For her, the best way to start making that change is to stand up for all human rights.

After viewing the exhibit, student Kardin Ulysse said the idea is “one I haven’t experienced in person that often.”

Making the exhibition accessible was also a quality praised by fellow student Faigy Gelbstein, who said the ability to take in the display in forms “other than sight is amazing and super inclusive.”

A popular standout at the art show, which BC student Kardin Ulysse says speaks to the
multitude “isolation and insecurity” the disabled may be feeling. / Jane Silverstein

Including intersectional inequality on a disabled front, Corning also said she was intending to use what she’s learned for future projects with special needs children.

“There’s no fluidity in binary thinking. It puts us in a box,” she said. Corning also said “there’s so much potential to teach” when it comes to disabled children, in a way that fosters more gender-equity and tolerance for the future.

When it came to defining disability, the artist also said she felt “privileged in the sense that I don’t require unique needs in the way that I move through the world.”

It was making art accessible that urged Corning to use recyclable material, wanting to show that art can be whatever anyone can find at home.

Currently pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education and Women’s & Gender Studies, Corning originally started the pieces for a class project. In her written statement, the artist said she sees education as a means of advancing society.

In addition to the exhibit, the afternoon included an original monologue called “Unboxing” read aloud by senior student Akilah Etienne. Inspired by societal labels, Etienne felt the bulk of her negative experiences with binary thought have been in reference to “the label of black and woman.”

Written about a week ago, Akilah said she was “frustrated with the world and the labels we as a society have placed on each other. They’ve become so ingrained that it’s easy to be trapped and it gets frustrating when you really remember that those binaries have no actual merit on who you are, only your experiences can do that.”

One of the exhibit’s pieces, made of bubble wrap and cardboard can be used to foster the
minds of disabled children. / Jane Silverstein

The connection between the poem and the exhibit, at least for Etienne and the members of the LGBTQ office, mainly had to do with breaking molds. Etienne said she “did that by acknowledging what molds I’ve been given and how they affect how others. She [Corning] did that by acknowledging the molds she saw that made art exclusive.”

For those who want to break out of their mold without art, Etienne recommends an individual to learn to question the labels they may hold and what those mean on a personal level.

She said that staying curious about the origin of a label and what reinforces the attachment to that label is the key to understanding. She also said she encourages anyone with something to say, to speak even if they are not an artist.

The significance for Etienne was the idea to focus on “showing how fragile social constructs are,” despite “how much weight we give them.”

One other speaker included Carol Zicklin Endowed Chair Brenda Foley, who is looking to work on a symposium involving disabled artists in late April, and will feature sound bites on campus about the disabled in the upcoming fall semester.

In the meantime, the semi-pointillistic art exhibit will most likely be hanging in the walls of the center for the rest of the semester and the employees at the Women’s Center encourage all students to walk in at any time during business hours to view the exhibit.

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