Below, we interview Rosary Solimanto, 37, a New York born artist diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, who fiercely challenges and questions the medical community and society at large when it comes to the portrayal and stigmatization of the disabled.
“Historically the social injustice of disability identity was constructed from eugenics programs and institutionalized biomedical infrastructure. Art on this subject is overdue, and would empower people with disabilities through a visual language and social platform, calling out prejudicial misconceptions,” Rosary starts off her interview with no hold-backs. “Objectification and perfectibility of the human body will continue to prevail, until art explores the oppressive stigmatizations associated with disability identity. I source my material from exposing the conflicts I face with multiple sclerosis. My art transforms space allowing the audience to become voyeurs entering my private medical world to expose the heightened oppressive realities and truths.”
Where are you originally from?
Lake George, NY (in the Adirondack Mountains)
Where do you currently live?
West New York, NJ
Preferred Art Medium
I work in the medium which best suits the concept I am creating. I enjoy blacksmithing and welding above all others.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Shigeyuki Kihara, Dread Scott, and Alfredo Jaar
A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
Don’t have one. I’m currently listening to: ALU
What is something you deeply love about yourself?
My strength and determination.
What would you say are your artwork’s main themes?
Disability identity, pride, and awareness
How would you describe your style?
Historical and contemporary— all work is concept-based. I examine the historical aspects of the subject (which I am creating) as well as contemporary trends. This blends into the work I create.
“Objectification and perfectibility of the human body will continue to prevail until art explores the oppressive stigmatizations associated with disability identity”
Methotrexate, 2015, digital photographs, 8”x10” (part of series)
Can you remember a specific experience from your life that has shaped who you are and what you do as an artist today?
Yes, the stem cell transplant I underwent. Not only was this a physical transformation, but a mental one, as well. I became stronger, confident, resilient and learned to adapt to whatever situation I was in. I developed disability pride and learned to love all of me. I realized I was always going to have health challenges and I had to learn how to live with them and do things differently and accommodate my body.
Your artwork is directly related to your diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and the experiences you’ve gone through as a patient and a woman with a disability. Can you recall for us what your path has been like?
Not easy, putting it mildly. Most people (including some friends and family) are quick to judge because I am disabled. There are stereotypes that surround people with disabilities which are (but not limited to): lazy, helpless, needy, weak, don’t want to work, have a lot of free time, have things handed to them, and aren’t choosing the right treatment options for their health condition. My life has been anything but these reductive stereotypes. My days are filled with trying to manage my diseases and health conditions. I go to the gym daily, see doctors, pharmacies, labs for blood work, health food stores and vitamin stores frequently. I have chosen to admit to having a disability and because of this I am a liability to employers. Many employers share this stereotypical mindset I mentioned above. The little bit of money I have, I spend on my health, and I work more hours or take on extra jobs to make the money I need to create. I’ve learned to create with little financial resources. In addition, I have numerous works which need to be created to aid intersectional people with disabilities.
In what way did your medical condition inspire you to create artwork?
When my body and mind were crippling me, I could barely move. I stayed on the couch, in my bed, or in the hospital. I became quite depressed from my limited movement and I longed to be the person I was before my disability. It wasn’t until I learned to love all of me (including my health conditions) did I begin to live again.
“I have chosen to admit to having a disability and because of this I am a liability to employers”
What is the intention behind your artwork?
Each work has a specific intention, but in general I want people with health conditions to feel empowered and to wear their identity boldly, and not feel it’s something which characterizes them as weak.
Tell us a little bit about your pieces “Trigeminal Neuralgia” and “Weight”
The piece Trigeminal Neuralgia is a wearable steel sculpture named after the set of three nerves which branch off the trigeminal nerve, located within the jaw, cheekbone, nose and forehead. These nerves can be affected by lesions on the brain or a spinal cord injury. This condition is known as the most painful condition to humankind. I experienced trigeminal neuralgia for almost 2 years, but after the second brain surgery I underwent I managed to resolve the pain into something I can live with and manage.
The wearable steel boots called Weight, was created to portray legs as heavy weights, simulating the difficulty and pain to walk or move when experiencing invisible health condition(s). I used one-inch thick steel at the base, causing the boots to weigh over 24 pounds. They are inspired by orthopedic braces for feet, work boots, and Frankenstein’s boots. The forged steel boots are lined with brown suede to depict the lower socioeconomic status one may face being on disability based income from health condition(s). I have performed in these boots (at Nut Blanche Festival in Toronto, CA), the loud sound and appearance open a dialogue between myself and the audience members. They ask me about them and I divulge my invisible health condition, and they, in turn, tell me theirs.
“The wearable steel boots called Weight were created to portray legs as heavy weights, simulating the difficulty and pain to walk or move when experiencing invisible health condition(s)”