Back in September, I had my first art show. It was up for 2 weeks in the ArtWorks Gallery at JMU. I spent much of the last 2 years preparing for it and was very satisfied with the end result. I was also very nervous for everyone to see it as it was such a personal topic. The response was very good though! Several people came to the opening on September 13th and I received feedback from professors, classmates, coworkers, and family.
This show was definitely a learning experience. There were a quite few bumps along the way… In this gallery, shows are put up the day before the opening, so I spent much of my Sunday doing that. I had help from mostly my boyfriend, but also the directors and some interns, which I was very grateful for. There was a lot of measuring and nailing for my 27 pieces. It took close to 5 hours to get everything done. Another setback was that when I was putting up all of my framed images, I didn’t take them down when my boyfriend started hammering the nail in for the next piece and eventually one frame fell off the wall and cracked of course. Luckily, I was able to find the same frame at Michael’s and replace it in time. Oh, and I also forgot to bring one of my pieces all together so I had to go back and get that from my room.
Even though I’m the most satisfied with my paintings, the wall of framed pieces was probably my favorite part of the show. It wasn’t just me trying to say something, it was a lot of people saying things. Earlier in 2012 I asked people affected by diabetes to answer three questions:
The responses were heartbreaking and inspiring. Click to read them (sorry for the glare…)
I am so grateful that these people were willing to share such intimate feelings with strangers. It was very important to me to show others that even though diabetics may “look” healthy and happy, we are constantly dealing with some kind of internal struggle, trying to compensate for the complete lack of an essential organ. I am so thankful for everyone who helped make my show so much better with their responses. Here are the rest of the pieces from my show with a short description of each:
This piece, titled Ketoacidosis, is the first in a set of four paintings that tell a certain story. When I was in the 9th grade, I went to the hospital for the first time since my diagnosis when I was three years old. I had ketoacidosis. I actually never knew what that was until I started doing research for these paintings. Ketoacidosis occurs when there is a lack of insulin in the body. Without insulin, the body can’t process glucose from food. The liver produces more glucose to feed the body, but since it can’t be processed, the glucose just accumulates in the bloodstream. The body needs energy and can’t get it so it breaks down fat instead. Fat metabolism leads to the buildup of ketones in the bloodstream. Ketones are toxic acids. This accumulation can be fatal. The ketones and glucose are then transferred into the urine. The kidneys use water to get rid of the excess ketones and glucose. This is the part of the process that is illustrated in black and white on the painting. The loss of water leads to dehydration, which worsens the condition and starts the cycle over again. I was in the hospital overnight because I couldn’t keep anything down, not even water. The bracelet in the painting is the actual bracelet that I wore when I was in the hospital.
This piece is titled Normal Life and it represents my life between the time I went to the hospital and when I finally realized what was happening to me 6 years later. The title is also indicative of the fact that diabetes is an invisible disease and most people would never know that I had it unless I told them.
This is the piece I was most protective of and worried about showing to people. It is called Attack and it represents my reaction to the research I did on Ketoacidosis. As I said earlier, I didn’t really know what happened to me when I went to the hospital and I never tried to find out until I decided to make paintings about the experience. I had no idea how serious it was and when I found out it could be fatal and thought about how many times I’ve had high blood sugar and ketones, I felt so defeated and hopeless. I had panic attacks a few nights in a row where I was crying so much I could hardly breathe and I felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. It was one of my lower moments in the art-making process, but doing the actual painting part was very therapeutic and helped me release the anxiety I was feeling about the whole thing.
This is the last painting in the set. It is titled Thank You and it is a message to my loved ones who have been with me through my ups and downs with diabetes. They are a huge part of the reason why I am where I am today.
This next painting is one of my favorites. It’s called Insulin is Not a Cure and it’s somewhat of an abstraction of an insulin injection cross section. The layers represent the muscle, fat, and skin. Injections are a huge part of a Type 1 diabetic’s life. Without insulin injections, I wouldn’t be here. It’s honestly that simple. Insulin is what keeps me alive, and yet it’s such an invasive thing. The needle is a foreign object in my body and it has no remorse for hurting me multiple times a day. I painted the insulin coming out of the needle to resemble a jewel because to me and other diabetics it’s a precious substance.
This last painting is titled I Can See It Happening. It illustrates multiple things, especially my fear of becoming blind and my overall frustration with diabetes. I’m a very emotional person, so this painting is quite representative of me. As an artist, my fear of losing my sight is very strong.
These next few pictures are drawings that went on the wall along with the questions and answers.
This drawing is titled All Day Every Day and it represents the repetitiveness of a life with diabetes.
These are two drawings of beta cells, which are responsible for storing and releasing insulin. I think the shape of the beta cell is so beautiful, so the drawings are thoughtfully titled Beautiful Beta 1 and Beautiful Beta 2.
These two small pieces are about ketones and test strips.
This piece is titled P(r)ick Me. I’ve had marks on my fingers for as long as I can remember.
These are two graphs that my dad made when I was diagnosed. I was still in my honeymoon period, which means that my pancreas was still producing some insulin. I got the flu almost as soon as I was diagnosed with diabetes, and my parents were carefully monitoring my blood sugar levels. My dad has always been a very logical person, and I love that I still have these graphs after all this time.
This is a picture of yours truly when I was about six years old. I don’t remember this photo being taken, but the photographer, my sister Sysy, reminds me that she took the photo when I took a break from rollerblading to check my blood sugar. The nice thing is that I don’t have many bad memories of having diabetes as a child. I think this photo very much captures that.
I am so thankful for this opportunity. It was scary for me to share this part of myself, but it changed my life in a good way. I feel like my life has more purpose now. I want to continue to explore diabetes as the subject of my art and I want to share it with as many people as I can. Be on the look out for more artwork inspired by diabetes because this is just the beginning! A HUGE thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way.