The Art of MS – symptoms under the spotlight

Hand of Fate – my artwork for the exhibition

“The paints dance across the page, running into each other in ways you hadn’t planned but looking all the more beautiful for it. It’s like an analogy for life really. No matter what way you plan, life will do its own thing but that doesn’t mean it’ll be any less beautiful and worthwhile

My MS Ireland blog post Healing Brushstrokes

It feels surreal to say that I am one of a handful of artists who was selected to take part in an amazing art exhibition in conjunction with MS Ireland and Novartis

The exhibition opened on Thursday 26 May and runs until Wednesday 1 June at Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute in Dublin so if you’re about the town please pop in.

The exhibition aims to showcase the wide-ranging symptoms of MS that people live with and how MS effects our lives

I was diagnosed with MS in 2015, not long after my 25th birthday. In reality I had symptoms going back for more than a decade before that. Post-diagnosis, writing and running kept me going. I made it as far as doing a half marathon but by 2016 I had a relapse that left me with a lot of pain and spasticity. I remember how grateful I was when my wheelchair arrived – it offered me freedom at a time my legs didn’t work. But this freedom was short lived when I realised the outside world sets up barriers to inclusion at every turn, something I recently wrote about here for the MS Ireland blog.

For a long time I lost my identity and struggled to make peace with this new version of myself. Yet it was during this time I picked up a paintbrush for the first time in a decade and with each mark I rediscovered my new self and I was surprised to find that she was someone I felt more at peace with. As humans our identities constantly shift and change but that change is much more sudden and extreme following a diagnosis or disabling relapse. Yet I found freedom in painting I never expected and I will always be grateful to MS for leading me to that.

I wanted to take part in the MS Ireland exhibition to highlight my experience of MS as someone who is proud to identify as disabled. Through metaphorical imagery, my artwork explores my symptoms, particularly pain, and how these have forced me to examine my identity. The dominant imagery of botanicals and thorns highlights how interconnected pain and beauty are. Certainly for me, it was during days my pain was at its worst that the only respite I could find was in nature – just closing my eyes and listening to the birds sing or the trees rustle reminded me I was alive and still a part of the world.

In Irish mythology the raven is misunderstood as representing solely death but it can just as often signify renewal and a change of fate. Much like the raven, society has a fixed idea of disability as being inherently negative: something to fear and hide from. But for me MS has just become another facet of my identity – it’s the societal disability I’ve experienced, such as inaccessibility, that has been far more disabling. My piece, which I’ve titled Hand of Fate, looks at how disability marks and shapes us in unexpected ways, how beauty and pain are interconnected, and the positive effects disability can also have in moulding our identity.

Artwork from some of the other artists

Visit here to learn more about the exhibition and the other artists taking part.

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