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Marieke Davis | Blind Beauty Issue 43

Marieke Davis Blind Beauty #43 featured image description is in the body of the post.

Marieke Davis | Blind Beauty Issue 43

Marieke (mah REE kah) Davis has a two-fold overriding philosophy that guides her life:

  1. Art should be inclusive, not exclusive, and

  2. Art should have an educational purpose that facilitates human understanding.

In today’s Blind Beauty Issue 43 you will meet Artist, Marieke Davis. Marieke’s passion for changing perceptions shines brightly through her extraordinary artwork.

Sight Stealing Diagnosis

Blind Beauty Issue 43 Image 1 description is in the body of the post
Image 1

Diagnosed with a massive brain tumor (pilocytic astrocytoma) at age ten, Marieke underwent three surgeries and 15 months of chemotherapy in the course of ten years. Although she has been intervention-free since her last surgery in 2011, she is permanently visually impaired with hemianopsia (half her field of vision in both eyes), and so uses a white cane to compensate for her lack of right-side vision.

Her love for creating art and for telling a good story took on a therapeutic objective after her diagnosis, but soon became intertwined with her pursuit of narrative art—art that tells a story. This pursuit was further developed when she enrolled at Arizona State University, (ASU) where she first tried her hand at Pop Art and discovered that the small frames used in comics and graphic series accommodated her visual impairment very well. She graduated from ASU last year, summa cum laude, with her Art major and minors in English Literature, Women’s & Gender Studies, and Creative Writing.

In the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program, Marieke experimented with various artistic techniques and mediums—emulating classic art masterpieces, such as depicting herself in the manner of Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele” and imitating Alphonse Mucha’s Art Deco style in her “Women of the Apocalypse” series, dabbling in intermedia, as shown in her objet d’art piece, “Sight of Hand,” in which she ironically decorated her first white cane with plastic “googly eyes” and attached a decorated plaster hand at the end of the cane to illustrate to the fully sighted that the feel of a white cane enhances sight for the visually impaired/blind, and creating unique jewelry—while almost setting her bangs on fire in the process!  

Blind Beauty Issue 43 Image 2 description is in the body of the post
Image 2

Finding Artistic Expression

Ultimately, her artistic exploration led to her most comfortable means of artistic expression in graphic literature and comics. It was while she was teaching herself how to create the Prologue and first chapter for her series, Ember Black, that her ASU Disability Resources liaison revealed to her that her daughter is also a visual artist; however since she is completely blind, she has never been able to see her work. That got Marieke determined to provide an audio companion to her graphic series, in an effort to extend her visual art to the visually impaired. The audio version—complete with voice actors, sound effects, and music—along with the printed graphic version earned her the Audience Choice Award in the First Annual ASU Herberger IDEA Showcase, and she is currently working on Chapter 2 of Ember Black, thanks to a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Image 3 Life Is Blurry description is in the body of the post
Image 3 Life Is Blurry

Concurrently, Marieke publishes “Life is Blurry,” an autobiographic, online comic strip created from the perspective of a “visually impaired visual artist”—such as she is—with the purpose of educating the able-bodied world through the most effective means she knows: humor. The strip was inspired by Alison Bechdel’s graphic autobiography, “Fun Home,” and was developed in her Women’s Studies course, “Chronicling Women’s Lives.” Excerpts from the strip earned Marieke a 2017 Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts VSA Emerging Young Artist award, and her entry is currently on a national tour. Eventually, Marieke would like to compile her comics into a complete graphic autobiography, but in the short-term, she hopes to have “Life is Blurry” become a nationally syndicated comic strip. Just as people of color strive for artistic representation, people with disabilities want to be represented in the arts, particularly in popular culture.

Image 4 Life Is Blurry description is in the body of the post
Image 4 Life Is Blurry

Past & Future Panel Presentations

Last year, Marieke presented a discussion panel, “Creating Ember Black,” at the Phoenix ComiCon, and this year she presented a panel, “The Philosophy of Rick & Morty,” and a lecture, “Introducing ‘Life is Blurry’ and Other Comics Created By and About Disabled Artists” at the Phoenix Comic Fest.  She hopes to premiere Chapter 2 of Ember Black next year at the Phoenix Fan Fusion after her grant project is completed in March 2019.

See Marieke’s artistic and literary work on her website, mariekedavis.com, “Life is Blurry” and Ember Black, Vol. I on her Facebook page, Life is Blurry by Marieke Davis, and Ember Black by Marieke Davis.

Blind Beauty Issue 43 Featured Image Description:

The image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Marieke is on the cover looking stunning in her black wrap dress. She has long brown hair cascading over her left shoulder and her bangs frame her pretty face.

Blocks of text superimposed on the photo are: “Bold | She Keeps Pressing Onward,” “Blind | She Has Deeper Insight,” “Beautiful | She Sees To The Heart Of Others”

Additional Images:

  • Image #1: In this photo, Marieke is standing outdoors with her white cane in one hand while she rests her other hand on a wall. She is wearing a dark paisley print dress with a scoop neckline.
  • Image #2: Marieke is standing next to two of her pieces displayed on easels holding her white cane in front of her. Her red dress is sleeveless with a square neckline.
  • Image #3 Life is Blurry comic strip: Two panels, Reality vs. Stereotype, shows how society views blind people. On both panels, a woman is standing at a corner crosswalk with her white cane. In the left panel, she is polished. The right panel shows the same woman as beggar dressed in tattered clothing, with dark glasses, holding a can. Her speech bubble says “Change? Spare some change for a blind beggar?”
  • Image #4 Life is Blurry comic strip: This strip has four panels with two cosplayers talking with one another.
    The conversation:

    • Dracula cosplayer: “Wow! So, you’re blind? Are you supposed to be Daredevil?”
    • Maria: “I’m the Silk Spectre. Y’know… from Watchmen? I’m also not totally blind.”
    • Dracula cosplayer: “Still, shouldn’t you be Daredevil? You’d probably relate to that character better.”
    • Maria: “I like Daredevil, but he’s not exactly realistic… lots of people don’t get that.”
    • Maria: Blind and visually impaired people aren’t super-human. And we don’t need to be super-human to be super. I mean, I’m good at hearing cars, but that’s about it—“
    • Dracula cosplayer: “LIKE DAREDEVIL?!”
    • Maria: “I’M NOT DAREDEVIL!”

Connecting With Marieke Davis On Social Media:

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WOTM 10 Featuring Suzanne Gibson

River’s Edge

Photo of Suzanne Gibson
Suzanne Gibson

Friday’s have always been my favorite day. When I was in the corporate world it was a welcome prelude to the respite of the weekend to come. Today, I become re-energized by featuring strong, independent, influential women who happen to share a common thread of blindness or low vision.

In preparing to write these pieces I always ask the person I’m writing about for permission and request that they send me a couple of paragraphs to work from. For those with websites and social media users I can glean interesting, informative, and inspirational data that makes for a good narrative.

My advice to every young person who crosses my path, everyone actually, is to keep pursuing what it is that you love. If you are creative, create. Do not be too busy; do not tell me about your limited budget. Find a way to do something. I did not always follow this advice. I became distracted many times with life.

Suzanne Gibson, a very talented local artist who owns River’s Edge studio in New Brighton, PA, is no exception to the unbelievable fortitude of people I hold in the highest regard. Prior to contacting her, I saw some articles written about her in a few of our local newspapers.

Suzanne Gibson Painting His Majesty (a very colorful majestic bird)
Suzanne Gibson
“His Majesty”

I knew Suzanne experienced vision loss and yet she was still passionate about her art. What I didn’t know were the other extraordinary circumstances she went through that were unrelated to her loss of vision.

The tumor was growing again, and I would need radiation. The daily radiation treatments lasted 6 weeks, but recovering took much longer. To add to this challenge, the week after I finished radiation, I received the news that my visual acuity was 20/200 and that I could no longer drive.

I think for most of us, to receive a simultaneous diagnosis of vision loss and a brain tumor, would be devastatingly frightening. Just when Suzanne was beginning life anew as a painter she had to endure this inconceivable news.

After her first brain surgery, Suzanne’s inspiration to keep moving forward was found in the works of blind artist John Bramblitt. She began painting canvasses and contemplating her second chance at life. While Suzanne was considering the direction her life would take next, life dealt her another blow.

The brain tumor was back. After another brain surgery and a 6 week course of daily radiation therapy, the recovery period this time around was considerably longer than the first time. With the added complication of worsening vision, Suzanne was introduced to adaptive devices to aid her in continuing to paint and live independently.

…without Lex Luther, there is no Superman and without this ‘disability’, I would not be painting the way that I do. This vision loss that could have struck me down has, instead, led me to explore myself and dig deep into my soul to paint expression and feeling.

During the experimental painting phase, while using the adaptive devices, there were some initial disappointments but then Suzanne created a piece aptly named Enjoy the Moment.” When I look at this painting I’m reminded of an indescribably beautiful summer day. The explosion of reds, yellows, oranges, greens, blues and purples along with the curves and angles of the two flowers tickle the senses. I can even imagine feeling the warmth of the day while hearing the birds sing as I inhale the sweet scent of the flowers. It’s a beautiful moment. The success Suzanne gained by this painting gave her the confidence she needed to continue her craft.

Suzanne Gibson Enjoy the Moment
Suzanne Gibson
“Enjoy the Moment”

Suzanne sent me 3 of her paintings which I’ve included in today’s post. I like and appreciate all 3 for different reasons but ‘My Nemesis was the one that really spoke to me. As soon as I saw it, without knowing what the cause of Suzanne’s loss of vision, I thought “this reminds me of my central vision loss.” So when I looked at an essay she wrote with the same name as the painting it clicked.

Suzanne Gibson Painting "my nemesis"
Suzanne Gibson
“My Nemesis”

Suzanne was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease an inherited vision disorder with macular degeneration that typically affects younger people. The macula, located in the center of the retina is responsible for detailed central vision needed to read, drive, recognize faces, etc.

Suzanne, you are an amazing example of what a person can achieve even when faced with adversity. Your strength, determination, and courage are admirable and you are a remarkable role model.

I’d like to encourage you to visit Suzanne’s website at www.riversedgestudio.com to see some of the offerings. In ending today’s post, because I like Suzanne’s philosophy on life, I’m using one of her quotes.

“My advice remains the same: enjoy the moment- do not wait for tomorrow. You do not know what that day will bring. However, when you do reach tomorrow and it is not what you thought it would be, REVISE!” ~Suzanne Gibson