'Unbroken: Art After Injury' Showcases Work from Artists with Disabilities

Unbroken exhibit featuring Reinventing the Wheel|Unbroken exhibit featuring the work of Frederico Martinez|Unbroken guest artist Jesse Cuellar shows the paint on the armrest of his wheelchair

Bridgeport Art Center played host to the opening night celebration of "Unbroken: Art After Injury," an installation curated by BACKBONES creator Reveca Torres featuring work by artists with disabilities. Dozens attended and the air was abuzz with conversation, but without a doubt, the loudest things in the room were the works of art themselves.

A dozen or more photographs were hung on the largest wall, a mere excerpt of "Reinventing the Wheel: Stories of Life After Spinal Cord Injury," a traveling photography exhibit turned into printed volumes showcasing 21 people with SCI and their abilities in spite of it. It was a powerful exhibit and one that naturally led visitors to the back room, where some of the show's newcomers had their paintings hung.

Federico Martinez had four paintings displayed and a small group had begun to form around them. A man draped an arm across Federico's power chair and leaned in to ask the meaning behind a particular work.

It was his first exhibition; the artist had been painting for less than a year and already was drawing crowds. His pride was evident, but so was his modesty.

"I just wanted to show color," he said, though what he managed to show was a glimpse into his soul.

"Art is a way to share a message and hopefully we can reach people outside of the disability community and educate them," Reveca said. The artwork itself showed intense patience, incredible detail, and a longing. Sometimes it appeared to represent an escape from the confines of their lives, other times to reintegrating into a "normal" lifestyle. Alternatively, disability was also celebrated, like a feature most loved about oneself such as curly hair and freckles.

This was only the second year for the exhibition, but already it has grown significantly, said Reveca.

"I've met many artists with SCI since the first year and feel it is a great platform to not only give them exposure, an opportunity to sell their work but also learn on a professional level. It is important that artists in the art world have shown their work in order to be noticed sometimes. As people with disabilities, sometimes the opportunities to show their work or be considered (for exhibitions) are limited."

The "Unbroken" exhibit will be available to view through the month of September in honor of Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.

BACKBONES exists to help people with spinal cord injury or disease (SCI/D) and their families connect with their communities. They do that by creating events and experiences that promote awareness and engage people of all abilities.