Disability, creativity, and the Jewish people

Slide 1: Among the Jewish people, creativity runs high, but so do chronic illnesses! For many of us, living disabled not only inspires our artistic expression, but brings us to create business both out of love and necessity. Living in a world that is hesitant to accommodate many disabled folks, we have to create our own opportunities whenever possible. And so we do . . .
Slide 2: Chronic Illnesses more common in Jews: chron’s disease, ehlers-danlos syndromes, gaucher disease, bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, fibromyalgia, hypo-and hyperthyroidism, cystic fibrosis, ulcerative colitis, spinal muscular atrophy. 

VICENTE (he/him)

I am an Afrolatinx, Sephardic, trans artist. I make cultural and spiritual art for my shop, Tienda Chulito. I have multiple chronic illnesses as well as chronic pain, I am the breadwinner for my household, and I also work a full time job. I started my shop out of financial necessity and what I felt was a cultural need for representation of the LGBTQIA++ community as well as Black Empowerment in trying times. My shop quickly evolved to include other aspects of my identity, predominantly a huge emphasis on Judaica and intersectional spirituality. Being a chronically ill artist as well as running a shop is a beautiful, difficult thing. I love to make art and I put all of my heart into it; everything is meant to make people feel included, seen, and empowered. Often my chronic illness can prevent me from creating; at times I have overextended myself during financial stress trying to find balance in getting my needs met. I find art to be a meditative practice, especially working a lot with things that make me happy to look at, touch, and have close to me—like shimmers, stones, nazars, and hamsas. I am in the process of renegotiating and navigating how to maintain a “healthy” relationship with this in the midst of illness, stress, the pandemic, and its relationship to capitalism. But, I’m excited to find ways to continue to put what I’ve created into the hands of other folks like me.

ELLE ZUSI (they☝🏼/them🖐🏼)

In the video above Elle introduces themself by signing their ASL name. 

I run Hands and Hamsas, a small Jewish deaf-disabled-autistic queer and non-binary art and print studio. I make colourful and resonating ASL art that bring to life the intersections in which I live. As a disabled artist, I find it so important to make art about my own lived experiences that understands and includes the important nuances so often overlooked. For the month of September, Deaf Awareness Month, I am releasing my illustrated deaf culture book. The book contains 15 different illustrations depicting different aspects of deaf culture.

OPHIRA CALOF (she/they)

This performance of Me and My Wheelchair was filmed at Second City’s 2018 Diversity Fellowship Showcase. Negative phrases like “wheelchair-bound”, “confined to a chair,” and more, are often used to describe wheelchair users, but that sentiment doesn’t typically align with the freedom and power that a mobility device can bring. This song uses comedy to paint a new narrative, grounded in celebration and joy.

ART LUSH (they/them)

I know this piece may not appear to relate directly to chronic illness and disability, but when first making it, I was in the all-too-common chronically ill slump where I believed I had done nothing all year; my illness had constantly gotten in the way. When I finished putting together this collection of some of the hamsas I’d made in 5780 (2019-2020), I was shocked to see I had done so much. I now look at it fondly as a reminder that even when I feel I’ve done nothing I’ve achieved incomprehensible things that I was told I couldn’t with my level of illness and immobility. It also reminds me that even if I didn’t have a huge output of art or could do nothing more than take care of my body and contend with pain every day, that’s already so much more than many are asked to take on in their lives—especially as independent artists trying to make their own way in the world. So now, even on especially hard days, I can look at my little family of hamsas and remind myself that even if I’m not able today, I am absolutely capable of doing amazing things.

ANNI ICARUS (they/them)

The piece is titled Disconnected. It represents burn out (dizziness, fatigue, lack of appetite, etc.) that I face trying to keep up with commissions and selling prints. It also represents keeping my arthritis in check. My medications for my whole slew of mental illnesses do not help with the brain fog that comes with these conditions. To keep up my business, and my passion for it, is a daily struggle. Especially with a deadline.

Just recently I set up my Etsy page to sell prints, one of a kind paintings, and stickers. It caused my brain to experience a TV-like lost signal and made me useless for the night, where I lost focus; I was still recovering from this episode days later. I am primarily a digital artist and the burn out keeps me from looking at screens. It is especially detrimental to both my ability to work and sell my art.

JESS NORA (they/them or ze/zir)

My shop, Judean Rose Studio, originally began when my disabilities prevented me from being able to continue my traditional 40-hour a week job as an art therapist, a position I loved at the time. With fibromyalgia limiting my movements, narcolepsy limiting my waking hours, and migraines limiting my screen time, there was little I was able to do with the waking hours I had and endless amounts of pent up urges to do anything productive. So I did what I would tell one of my clients to do, I made art about it. Making art, slowly but surely, was all I could do for months during the worst flare ups. Creating my shop allowed me to finally begin to support myself again. Through this, I was able to work on my health and find a routine that actually worked for me as someone who lives with chronic illness. It wasn’t long before I found that being able to make all the accommodations my disabilities demanded, improved my productivity. And my health got better from not forcing my body into a situation it wasn’t meant for. Now, working from home in a way that is set up for how my body works, I am able to run a small business and work part time as a therapist again.

Header image design by Jess Nora. 

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Jess Nora (they/them, zi/zir) is a disabled, queer, Jewish art activist who works in a variety of media. Jess uses their art to express their lived experience, speaking out against socially accepted ableism and systematic oppression.

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