Artists Explore ‘Invisible Disabilities’ at Arthaus Art Gallery

Sam Fein, ‘Overwhelmed’, gouache, ink and pencil on paper, in the ‘Invisible Disabilities’ exhibition at UVA’s Arthaus Gallery.Sam Fein @SamFeinArt

We all have a gap between our private selves and our public selves. For people with invisible disabilities, including chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and neurological disorders, this gap can be significant.

“Invisible Disabilities,” presented by Unbound Visual Arts and curated by Samantha M. Joyce at the Arthaus Art Gallery, spotlights 10 artists from this demographic. An exhibition that explicitly depicts the crucible of hidden challenges – the suffering they cause and the wisdom they can bring – is something everyone can relate to.

Susan K. Teal suffers from anxiety attacks and trauma, she says in her artist statement. Her self-portraits, taken in 2020, after her aunt’s death and amid pandemic isolation, depict Teal expressing a range of intense emotions. In “Labile,” one expression unfolds to the next, as she screams, grits her teeth, and softens in grief. The emotional tone is reminiscent of Edvard Munch”The Scream(and indeed, Munch writes in his diary suffering from tuberculosis and mental illness). Teal’s candid realism in the self-portrait is surprisingly intimate. The succession of faces offers a progression from rage to sadness, and a clarity of self-witness, which makes room around the pain.

Susan K. Teal, “Labile”, acrylic on stretched canvas.Susan K. Teal

But maybe I see hope just to stave off my own fragility. “The invisible disease has no arc. No story”, the painter Linda Morgenstern, who suffers from myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, wrote in his statement. In his small paintings of beautifully marbled houses, interspersed with tiny cardboard huts fixed to the wall, paint is like the material of life from which form merges and then dissolves, and the house a symbol for the body: structured but worn by light, dark and weather.

Linda Morgenstern, “Red Door”, oil on paper with impasto glaze.Linda Morganstern

Works that explore an artist’s disability without revealing it open up an even wider field for the viewer’s personal projection. Sam Fein draws a watery figure haunted by ghosts in “Overwhelmed.” Her “Drug Mandala” assemblage – patterned with vials, sachets, pills and candy – harnesses the power of a drug regimen for contemplation and spiritual growth by transforming it into sacred geometry.

It is the work of art. Giving shape to the invisible and fleeting parts of humanity and society, it holds them and consecrates them. Especially in these times of fear, artists like the ones in this show, who recognize their tenderness and struggle, are true leaders.


At the Arthaus Art Gallery, 43 N. Beacon St., Allston, through July 17.

Cate McQuaid can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.

Comments are closed.