Mosaic, paint, clay, pencil, and countless other mediums are used to create beautiful works every day by artists eager to share their aesthetics and perspectives with the world. To The art allows – an art studio and gallery in DC – dedication “to creating opportunities for artists with disabilities to create, market and earn income through their original and compelling works of art” is part of the mission of the studio, according to the organization’s website. There “External forcesThe exhibition will be presented at the studio from September 3 to October 22 and is composed entirely of self-taught artists from Art Enables and partner studios.
Founded in 2001, many of the artists who have decided to be represented by the gallery have fascinating backgrounds, not only professionally, but also personally. Vannessa Monroe is an artist and an ambassador for Art Enables. She has worked at the studio for 17 years, is incredibly passionate and advocates for the rights of people with disabilities.
“I am a self-taught artist. I learned when I was a baby. My mother used to put me on the coffee table and she gave me a pencil and paper and I started drawing cats Monroe said, “I used to doodle. Before, I used to draw my own shoes and my own stuffed animals.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Monroe had wanted to put her advocacy into action and hoped to eventually.
“I was supposed to open my gift shop and it would only be for people with disabilities,” she said. “I don’t know when I’m going to do this. My friend and I were going to start a business, but the economy went down.
Inspiration for art can come from anywhere, and “Outside Forces” apparently has no theme regarding the messages behind the featured pieces. Instead, it seems to emphasize individual styles and personal experiences to be central to the exhibit. For Art Enables veteran Michael Knox, a visual artist who has worked for the gallery for 12 years, inspiration “can be anything that catches my eye, especially nature and landscapes.”
The title of the exhibition “External Forces” is interpretative and can be a metaphor for empowerment, or can be indicative of the the story treatment of people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities, people like us, were caged and put in an institution and thrown away the key and we let them stay in there…I feel like people with mental and physical disabilities sometimes have a bad reputation and we’re not taken seriously sometimes,” Knox said. “For me, ‘Outside Forces’ is about telling people around the world who we are and why we do what we do and the acceptance by people.”
Art Enables has included artists in “Outside Forces” from “traditionally underrepresented communities and people with disabilities,” according to the description on the website. Art can be about trying new things, perfecting imperfections, and bringing work and livelihoods within reach of the public. Asked about his opinion regarding the company symbolizing and emphasizing his disability and less on his art, Knox had a very eloquent and informed response.
In an interview with The Eagle, Knox said that once on his way home from work, a man on the train asked him what he did for a living and was then impressed after showing off his art. The man showed his art to fellow passengers and promised to check out Knox’s Facebook page.
“When I saw the man again, he said, ‘Hey, do you remember me?’ …”I owe you a big apology,” Knox said. “I asked you what you did for a living and I saw you in a wheelchair and I didn’t believe you.” He said: ‘J ‘saw the chair and I just didn’t believe you.’
“People in wheelchairs should not be discriminated against just because they say they can do what they can. I am like everybody else. I may be in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid,” Knox said. “I have a brain and I know how to use it – I have a challenge but I just want people to take my word for it. That’s all there is to say.”