Charmaine G. Brown

A plastic doll in a blue and white gown with a bodice embellished with the Wheelchair Symbol of Access waves from her wheelchair.

Social & Political Artist Presenting Issues about Physical Disability through Thematic Installations and Objects.

“Becoming physically disabled has defined my voice as an artist. This transition has provided me with insight into how the non-disabled view the disabled. I create art experiences to share this insight and give people opportunities to gain understanding about physical disability. My work explores the personal, social, environmental, and political issues surrounding physical disability. I address these attitudes and assumptions because they underpin American society and cause inequality.”

Ten cheerleader uniforms, each adorned with a letter, are hung on a wall in a vee shape to spell out DISABILITY. Pom-poms and megaphones complete the tableau.

“My art aims to provoke thought, initiate dialog, and develop social familiarity of the disabled. Absence of fear can reduce discrimination, promoting the physically disabled to gain greater social equality, better access in communities, and fuller participation in the whole of society.”

“Using familiar themes, for example a circus, fairy tale, or game, I present unfamiliar issues about physical disability. Conceptually I develop interesting polarities between the theme and the subject of disability. I then create several primary sculptures relating to the theme using soft pliable fabric in combination with disability paraphernalia, such as a shower commode chair, urinary leg bag, a wheelchair, or cane.”

This installation features a pennant two large appliqued circus-style banners (one featuring a woman in a wheelchair and one promising a Tattoo Lady), a blue and white striped stool and a blue and white striped fabric chamber adorned with a giant clown face. A detail shot of the blue and white striped stool and blue and white striped fabric chamber adorned with a giant clown face.

“I mainly use satin fabric and use appliqué and embroidery techniques. I am a master seamstress with an affection for detail and decoration. The sensual and attractive quality of satin fabric curiously contrasts with the detractive metal quality inherent in disability equipment. I primarily use fabric of blue and white, which are the colors of the International Wheelchair Symbol of Access symbol. This symbol of the stick-figured wheelchair character is repeated throughout my work and has become a prominent feature. These sculptures are then incorporated into theatrical installations constructed of fabric structures and architectural elements.”

“These environments provide a visceral experience for the viewer. Within the installation the issue of physical disability is unavoidable, yet the satirical development of the theme establishes humorous elements which offers the viewer to participate in the paradox. My installations maximize physical space, intellectual content, and technical expertise in order to invite people to engage themselves more intimately with the subject matter of disability.

“Because mainstream culture is largely image oriented, art images are able to convey complicated issues and stimulate a dialogue of concerns regarding important issues.”

A postcard that can be cut out and assembled into a partial mask features eyes (to be cut out), a furrowed brow with a third eye and three playing cards displaying an ace, a joker and a Fortune Teller card depicting a human palm. All the printed text on the cards is backwards. This postcard can be cut and assembled into a three dimensional commode. It features a playing card queen as toilet seat lid, the letter Q and the Wheelchair Symbol of Access below the Q. This postcard can be cut and assembled into a three dimensional access ramp with the playing card Jack of Ramps at the top of the ramp. Card features letter J and the Wheelchair Symbol of Access below the J.

“Acceptance of people who are physically disabled or appear as physically different continues to be a difficult adjustment for our society. Public attitudes and ignorance about the disabled can be much more disabling than the persons actual disability. My intention is to deconstruct public mythology surrounding the disabled.”

— Charmaine G. Brown

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The North Fourth Art Center is operated by VSA arts of New Mexico, a not-for-profit organization, affiliated with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the national VSA arts network.