Bodies of Work Festival Explores Connection Between the Arts and Disabilities


Chicago is very lucky to host the Bodies of Work Festival, May 15-25. As Chicago Sun-Times contributor Dr. Kristi Kirschner said in a 2006 op-ed, “There’s nothing like a good story or a powerful image to challenge old prejudices and open up possibilities.” The article was entitled “Experiences of disability guide new art,” a sentiment which the Bodies of Work Festival epitomizes. This year, the Festival will bring together artists from locales as varied as Australia, the United Kingdom, and Oak Park, Illinois, to relish the new art that disability engenders, offering their audiences new experiences in the process.

For fans of interdisciplinary arts, the Festival offers an interesting mix. Beginning on May 15, festival-goers will have a chance to see: contemporary artworks by 38 disability-focused artists on display at the Woman-Made Gallery; a new theatrical adaptation of Still Alice, the New York Times-bestselling novel, presented by Chicago’s own Lookingglass Theatre;  three one-person shows presented respectively at the Greenhouse Theater and Victory Gardens; a series of experimental short films and recent documentaries at the Museum of Contemporary Art; poetry readings at the Poetry Foundation; and at least two appearances by Chicago playwright Susan Nussbaum, author of the new novel Good Kings, Bad Kings.

The complete schedule is below. Note that it ends on May 25. That gives you ten days to get as much new art as you possibly can.

Festival hashtag for Twitter, Instagram: #BOWFestival2013

Bodies of Work (BOW) Festival is a an eleven day, multi-venue Chicago event that highlight the work of artists with disabilities. The festival celebrates national and international artists with disabilities who are creating today’s cutting-edge theater, dance, literature, poetry, spoken word, film, and visual/performance art. It takes place at some of Chicago’s most recognized cultural institutions, and includes free public panels and talks in conjunction with many of the events.

BOW Festival perceives disability art as playing a key role in articulating what disability means personally, politically, and aesthetically. Artists involved in the disability arts and culture movement consider their bodily, sensory, cognitive, and neurological differences as wellsprings of creativity that provide unique perspectives of the world. The movement is intimately tied to and has grown up alongside the disability civil rights movement, and the urgency and vibrancy shared by both are present in the beautiful and challenging work showcased in this festival.

“We are particularly excited about this year’s festival because of its focus on professional artists with disabilities whose work illuminates important issues and emerging aesthetics of our community as well as the larger arts community,” said Carrie Sandahl, Bodies of Work Director and Professor in the Department ofDisability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Bodies of Work: A Network of Disability Art and Culture is part of the Department ofDisability and Human Development at University of Illinois at Chicago.

Twelve cultural/academic institutions and community groups are participating: Access Living’s Disability Arts and Culture Project, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Hyde Park Art Center, Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, Lookingglass Theatre, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Poetry Foundation, Raven Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Northwestern University’s Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program, Greenhouse Theater Center, and Woman Made Gallery. The 2013 Festival partners include all presenting venues plus Momenta Dance Company, University of Illinois at Chicago, Tellin’ Tales Theater, and the Chicago Cultural Center. All venues are wheelchair-accessible and have accessible restrooms. Many performances include audio description, word-for-word captioning, and/or sign-language interpretation. Please visit our website for information about specific disability accommodations at each event.

The 2013 Bodies of Work Festival of Disability Arts and Culture Opening Celebration is generously hosted by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. The celebration takes place Wednesday, May 15, 6-8:30pm, at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Randolph Street, Preston Bradley Hall. Doors open at 5:45pm. The evening’s honoree is Chicago writer, Susan Nussbaum. The keynote speaker New Yorker Simi Linton, Ph D, is oneof America’s foremost experts on disability arts and culture. Panelists include Chicago artist, Riva Lehrer, Davidson College Professor, Ann Fox, Indiana University poet and disability studies scholar Sami Schalk, and Berkeley, California poet, activist, and specialist in the history and current practice ofblack, disabled musicians. A panel discussion, “Framing the Festival: A Critical Discussion on Disability Art and Culture” will address some of the history, trends, and cultural contexts of disability art in general, as well as specific representational and narrative strategies being presented at the BOW festival. The reception includes hor d’oeuvres and is free and open to the public.

BOW is a network of artists and organizations formed in 2002 that explore and celebrate the contributions of artists with disabilities and the contemporary contexts of disabled lives. With thought-provoking programs of disability arts and culture, BOW serves as a catalyst to illuminate the disability experience in new and unexpected ways. The organization also provides a forum for on-going programs that honor and explore the accomplishments of local, national and international artists. It offers information to cultural venues about providing access and accommodations for both artists and audiences with disabilities.


Woman Made Gallery
Opening Reception: Humans Being II
May 10, 6-9pm
Exhibition Dates: May 10 – June 20, 2013
Gallery Hours: Wed., Thurs., Fri. noon to 7pm; Sat. & Sun. noon to 4pm.

Humans Being II is an exhibit that focuses on the experience of disability as explored through contemporary art. Juried by Riva Lehrer this group show includes artworks in all media by 38 artists. Woman Made Gallery, 685. N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago 312.738.0400. Free Admission.

Lookingglass Theatre
Still Alice
May 16-19, various times

Based on the New York Times bestselling novel, Still Alice, Professor Alice Howland is at the peak of her career studying the human brain when her own mind begins to falter. Fiercely independent, she battles to preserve her way of life, even as confusion clouds her thinking and her memory begins to fail. This world premiere adaptation is at the same time heartbreaking and hopeful. May 16, 7:30 PM is an open captioned performance that is followed by a panel discussion on “Living and Performing – The Disability and Arts Culture Movement.” May 19 features a 2:00 pm pre-show touch tour for patrons with visual impairments and a 3:00 pm audio described performance, followed by a panel discussion on “Living and Identity – Making connections between aging, dementia, and disability.” Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago. Ticket prices vary. For tickets and schedule, call 312.337.0665 or visit

Museum of Contemporary Art
Back to Back Theatre: Ganesh Versus the Third Reich
May 16-19, various times

Australia’s leading independent theatre is a unique ensemble of actors with disabilities who give voice to the social and political issues that speak to all people. MCA Stage presents this cleverly interwoven tale-within-a-tale that begins with the elephant-headed god Ganesh traveling through Nazi Germany to reclaim the Swastika, the sacred Hindu symbol of higher being. The story becomes a second transformative quest as the group of struggling actors rise to take power from an overbearing director, giving rise to issues of cultural appropriation, the responsibilities of those who speak for others, and what constitutes myth, reality or even normalcy. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago. Ticket prices vary. For tickets and schedule, call 312.397.4010 or visit

Access Living
Counter Balance IV
May 17-18, 6-7:30 pm

Counter Balance IV integrates dance, poetry and spoken word that explores the intersection of disability, diversity and art. The evening will include performers with and without disabilities: Oak Park’s MOMENTA dance company; Oakland, California, performer and interdisciplinary artist Lisa Bufano, who uses stilts and props in her pieces; New York-based Alice Sheppard, who dances with both wheelchair and crutches, and whose work challenges the assumption that assistive devices are compensatory; inter-disciplinary Chicago performance artist Baraka de Soleil, who explores the formless within form; and Chicago poet and visual artist Pennie Brinson, who reads poetry that explores dance and movement. A workshop in creative movement is held on Saturday, May 18, 1-3 pm. Access Living, 115 W. Chicago Ave, Chicago. Free admission. Seating is limited. Reservations taken at [email protected]

Access Living
Good Kings, Bad Kings
Saturday, May 18, 2- 4 pm

The Chicago playwright Susan Nussbaum reads from her first novel Good Kings, Bad Kings, for which she received the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and will sign copies of her book. The story follows the lives of residents at the ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities, where friendships are forged, trust is built, and love affairs begin, in an atmosphere of neglect and abuse. In this alliance the residents of ILLC ultimately find the strength to resist their mistreatment and fight back. A lifelong Chicago resident, Nussbaum’s plays have been produced at many theaters. In 2008 she was cited by the Utne Reader as one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” for her work with girls with disabilities. Woman Made Gallery, 685. N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago.  Free admission. To learn more, visit

Poetry Foundation
Poetry off the Shelf: Jim Ferris, Leroy F. Moore & Barry Silesky
Saturday, May 18, 6-7 pm

The Poetry Foundation presents a reading by Jim Ferris, Leroy F. Moore, and Barry Silesky.  Ferris is the author of Hospital Poems, which received the 2004 Main Street Rag book award. Moore is the award-winning founder of Krip-Hop Nation and the performance group, Sins Invalid. Silesky, acclaimed biographer of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and American writer John Gardner, is the author of three books of poetry, most recently, This Disease. Poetry Foundation, 61 West Superior Street, Chicago. Free admission. To learn more, visit

Hyde Park Art Center
Film Screening & Discussion: Beneath the Blindfold
Sunday, May 19, 2-4:30 pm

A nursing home aide from Africa. An actor from Colombia. A U.S. Navy veteran from Chicago. A physician from Guatemala. While different at first glance, they have a horrific experience in common: they all have been tortured. Co-directed by Chicago filmmakers Kathy Berger and Ines Sommer, Beneath the Blindfold (55 min., 2012) follows four survivors through the daunting steps of building new lives, careers, and relationships after the debilitating consequences of torture. The screening is followed by a discussion with the filmmakers and Maria Venegas, a torture survivor and human rights activist from Chile, will be present for the Q and A after the screening. Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell Ave, Chicago. Free Admission. To learn more, visit

Raven Theatre
The Birdfeeder Doesn’t Know
May 19-22, 7:30 pm

Chicago playwright Todd Bauer’s production of The Birdfeeder Doesn’t Know follows the life of Herman, Ingrid and their disabled son. They have always encouraged their son to seek assistance in order to attain independence but now, due to the natural flow of life, Herman and Ingrid’s independence is threatened. When actions once perceived as easy and obvious when directed to their son are now perceived as insults when directed to themselves, the family unit becomes both echo chamber and torture chamber. Each performance is followed by a moderated post show discussion with the playwright, director and cast. Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, Chicago. Tickets $10. For tickets call 773.338.2177 or purchase online at Free Admission.

Victory Gardens Theater
A Little Bit of Not Normal (formerly called All Kinds of Crazy)
Sunday, May 19, 7:30-8:50 pm

In this workshop reading written and performed by Arlene Malinowski, a family secret is uncovered when she attends her sister’s wedding. With her trademark humor, Malinowski confronts her own state of mind when depression slips in through her window, lights a cigarette and makes himself at home. Her autobiographical journey through the snake pit of mental illness is self-aware without being self-centered. Malinowski portrays a variety of characters including herself, her deaf parents, her husband, and the parade of physicians who attempt to treat her. Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 North Lincoln Ave, Chicago. Free admission. Reservation required. For tickets call 773.871.3000 or visit

Greenhouse Theater Center
Reinventing Story: Tekki Lomnicki, The Miracle, and New Disability Storytelling
Tuesday, May 21, 7-9 pm

This program will present two storytelling forms, Thanksgiving, a solo performance by Tekki Lomnicki, Artistic Director of Tellin’ Tales Theatre and The Miracle, Jeffrey Jon Smith’s award-winning film reinterpretation of the piece.  Both stories, even with such inspirational titles, may surprise and engage you to think differently about disability storytelling. The evening will include a discussion moderated by Terri Thrower to explore how these artists use storytelling elements to reframe and reinterpret familiar, and often tired, narratives about disability. Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. Tickets $10. Call 312.540.1330 to reserve or purchase online at More about The Miracle is at

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
Intersection / Intervention: Disability in Museums
A Professional Development Workshop
Thursday May 23, 9am-12pm

How do museums function as unique spaces to reframe and expand conversations about disability? Likewise, how can Disability Studies and the disability rights movement offer insight for reimagining, improving and expanding the core functions of museums? The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and the Museum and Exhibition Studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago invite you to attend Intersection / Intervention and examine museums through a lens of disability. Confirmed Think Tank Panelists include: Carrie Sandahl, PhD Theatre and Performance Studies, Associate Professor in the Department of Disability and Human Development at UIC, Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi, MFA, Artist, PhD Student in Disability Studies at UIC; and Christine Sun Kim*, Performance artist, 2013 TED Fellow. There is a $20 workshop fee (Students $5). Reservations are required. This event is ADA accessible. If you need additional accommodations, please call 312.413.5353 or email [email protected]

Museum of Contemporary Art
Film Screening: Four Films by Stephen Dwoskin
Thursday, May 23, 12-6 pm and Saturday, May 25, 2013, 2-8:30 pm

Stephen Dwoskin was a prominent member of the avant-garde in New York in the 60’s and later in London.  He made films that scrutinize the body and its discontents, rooted partly in his long struggle with polio. Emotionally intense, often with little or no dialogue, his films chart the narrow borders between pleasure and pain. The MCA Stage presents four films that reflect the breadth of his career, including the last film before his July 2012 death:
· Age Is… (2012), a subjective meditation on the experience and cultural concepts of aging: May 23, 1:30pm, and May 25, 3:30pm.
· Pain Is… (1997, 80 min), series of people living with constant pain, whether from illness, injury, or sadomasochism: May 23, 12pm, and May 25, 2pm
· Ballet Black (1986, 86 min), documentary about Les Ballets Nègres, Europe’s first black ballet company: May 23, 4:30pm, and May 25, 7pm.
· Behindert (1974, 96 min), autobiographical drama starring Dwoskin, about a love affair complicated by his disability: May 23, 3pm, and May 25, 5pm.
Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E Chicago Ave., Chicago. Free Admission.

Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago
Film Screening: NoBody’s Perfect (90 min., 2008, directed by Niko von Glasow)
Wednesday, May 22, 6-7:30 pm

Winner of the 2009 German Film Award for Best Documentary, NoBody’s Perfect (2008, 90 minutes) follows Director Niko von Glasow as he looks for eleven people who, like him, were born disabled due to the side-effects of Thalidomide, and who are prepared to pose nude for a book of photos. The documentary explores the specific problems these twelve extraordinary people faced during their lives, and their candid reactions towards the photography project. The final results of the photo shoot give the models entirely new perspectives on themselves. The screening is followed by a panel discussion about disability and sexuality. Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th Street, Chicago. Free Admission. To learn more, visit

Northwestern University’s Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program
Realities and Representation: A Roundtable Discussion of Good Kings, Bad Kings
Thursday, May 23, 5-6:30pm

In this roundtable sponsored by Northwestern University’s Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program, Professors Martha Stoddard Holmes of California State University, Rebecca Garden of SUNY Upstate Medical Center and writer and disability activist Mike Ervin of Chicago will react to and discuss concepts of good and bad, right and wrong and empowerment and powerlessness in Susan Nussbaum’s novel “Good Kings, Bad Kings.” The author will respond to the roundtable and discuss the process and decisions that she made in writing the book. The roundtable will be moderated by Catherine Belling of Northwestern University and plenty of time will be left for audience reaction and discussion. Feinberg School of Medicine Lurie Building, Hughes Auditorium, 303 E Superior St., Chicago. Free Admission.

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
Christine Sun Kim: Pardon me, where is the kitchen?
Friday, May 24, 6-7:30 pm

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum presents the innovative sonic work of 2013 TED Fellow Christine Sun Kim a deaf Korean-American performance artist who actively investigates the physicality of sound. She has an MFA from Bard College and the School of Visual Arts in New York. Recent performances include Upcoming: Gesture Sign Art, Berlin Kunstraum Kreuzberg. Hidden Treasures with Egloff, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY; Doing Becoming Being, TCB Gallery, Melbourne, Australia; and We Convert Our Mind to Creativity, Sound + Art Festival, Trier, Germany. Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, 800 S. Halsted St., Chicago. Free Admission. To learn more, visit Space is very limited, must reserve seating at

Victory Gardens Theater
BALL and Other Funny Stories About Cancer
Friday, May 24, 7:30-9:00 pm

Written and performed by Brian Lobel, BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer brings together Lobel’s trilogy of work about his experiences with cancer (written between 2001 and 2011). His work infuses the “cancer story” with an urgency and humor that is sometimes inappropriate, often salacious, and always honest. Starting from the moment of diagnosis, BALL …goes beyond stories of medical treatment to explore sexuality, gender and politics. In pulling the trilogy together as one, Lobel attempts to show that surviving cancer is only half the battle. Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 North Lincoln Ave, Chicago. Tickets $10. For tickets call 773.871.3000 or visit

Museum of Contemporary Art
Film Screening: Eleanore & the Timekeeper
Saturday, May 25, 12 pm

The complexities of a mother’s sacrifice are discovered when Eleanore, at age 91, moves her developmentally disabled son Ronnie into a group home after 64 years of devoted companionship and daily ritual in their modest Pennsylvania farmhouse. Shot on 16mm, the film is a quiet love story between a mother and son, which celebrates life’s natural cycles of monotony and impermanence. Eleanore & the Timekeeper (76 min., 2010) is the first feature-length film by the award-winning experimental filmmaker Danièle Wilmouth, who is in introducing the film on Saturday.  Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E Chicago Ave. Chicago. Free Admission. To learn more, visit


Generous support for the 2013 Bodies of Work Festival is provided in part by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of People with Disabilities, Disability Resource Center and the Department of Disability and Human Development; 3Arts; MobilityWorks; City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events; Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities; Illinois Humanities Council; and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency. Thanks to individual donors supporting the Festival, including Steven Lee, Beth Prevor, and Toby Tate.