Through His Work, Chicago Artist Shines Light on Invisible Disabilities

Arts Midwest, which presents an annual award to Midwestern artists with disabilities, recently announced its 2023 awardees.

Visual artist Matt Bodett is the only Chicago recipient. He said his work gives him a voice.

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“That power given back to me, I think, was that moment of transition for me,” Bodett said.

That power Bodett is referring to comes as a result of hard work, after being diagnosed with what’s described as an invisible disability.

“When we have discussions about disability, … it’s very often these visual disabilities that get a lot of attention, as they should,” Bodett said. “So then what happens is the invisible disabilities, it’s harder to believe sometimes. That’s some what that stigma that exists. … People (say), ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Work through the sadness. Man up.’ There’s this notion of you should just be able to move beyond because you can’t see it.”

Bodett said he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which he describes as a mixture of schizophrenia and a mood disorder — in his case, severe depression.

Bodett said Chicago’s community of other artists with disabilities helped him find a space to heal through his work.

“I was working with a counselor, a psychiatric team, and they did encourage me, since I was making art before, they encouraged me to use it to start to talk about stuff,” Bodett said. “Because one of the things that’s most difficult for me when I’m in my worst state is I lose the ability to speak. I can no longer verbalize a lot of things. From there, they wanted me to use art to talk, to share what my experiences were like, but in a visual form that maybe I’m more comfortable with.”

One experience was growing up in the church. Bodett said he grew up in a very religious environment and had doctors tell him he needed to repent for his sins.

With the help of oil paint on clay board, Bodett brings his experiences to life, hoping to spark conversations celebrating disabilities, both visible and invisible.

“Religion still comes into the work, but I see it a little more critically,” Bodett said. “The figures that I use in work are often religious figures who under a different umbrella, would be considered insane. … I can pose the question of: OK, this person heard voices, they talked to birds, they danced in the street, they did all the things that would get them institutionalized today. Why do we venerate them but at the same time not treat the people in our world now who might be experiencing similar things — why can we not treat them with the same humanity?”

Awardees each received $3,000 to help elevate their work.

Bodett’s new exhibit, “Of Exceptions,” is on display at the Artuss Gallery, 4553 W. Diversey Ave.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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