Dis/Play Group Exhibition, March 24 through April 23, 2015


SOMArts Cultural Center presents DIS/PLAY, a multidisciplinary exhibition of work by more than 30 Bay Area artists and groups who are stretching and expanding predictable representations of disability in the gallery space. DIS/PLAY centers the perspectives of artists with and without disabilities who deconstruct and examine individual and shared experiences of disability culture, shatter assumptions about access in the arts, explore complex and varying narratives and evoke emotional responses that transcend pity or inspiration. In DIS/PLAY artists claim and define their own identities, experiment, and make their own rules.

Coinciding with the 25 year anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability, DIS/PLAY explores the way that disability and work by artists with disabilities is framed and described, perceived and judged, absorbed and interpreted. DIS/PLAY highlights and dissolves common boundaries to participation, and introduces audiences to a multi-modal and possibly unfamiliar way of engaging with an exhibition.

“DIS/PLAY utilizes SOMArts’ Main Gallery as a public playground to re-think access to cultural work, and create new rules of engagement. For people with disabilities, the words ‘play’ and ‘display’  can often raise complex questions around participation and performance, and then there’s the whole issue of representation” said DIS/PLAY’s curator, SOMArts Commons Curatorial Residency recipient Fran Osborne, whose vision shapes this intentional environment to experience facets of disability culture.

Throughout the opening reception, Thursday, March 26, 2015, 6pm to 9pm, there are opportunities to meet the artists of DIS/PLAY and engage in multimodal art explorations. Paint with artist Neal Barbosa and play musical instruments made from skateboards, designed with limited hand mobility in mind. At 7pm, The Comedians With Disabilities Act offers a 45-minute comedy interlude, including well-known stuttering stand-up comedian, activist and educator Nina G.



Accompanying events include:


Dis/Play Opening Reception
Visual art opening reception features live participatory painting, comedy, and interactive installations including musical instruments.
Thursday, March 26, 6–9pm. Comedy at 7pm.
Click here for more info. 


Axis Dance Performance & DIS/PLAY Artists Panel
Wednesday, April 8, 6–9pm. 6pm exhibition tours, 7pm performance, film screening, 8pm panel. Free with RSVP on EventBrite.
Click here for more info. 


Dis/Play Closing Reception
Visual art closing reception features a poetry performance & screening of “Sins Invalid”
Thursday, April 23, 6–9pm. Free with RSVP on EventBrite.
Click here for more info. 

Artist and disability rights activist Corbett Joan O’Toole exhibits two hand-made quilts; one celebrates disabled women of color, from Kathy Martinez to Amy Tan. Another focuses on a well-known Bay Area institution, the Agnews Asylum for the Insane in San Jose, which housed thousands of disabled people from the 1880s to 2009.

Teachers and student artists at the Cypress School in Petaluma have collaboratively developed an installation “SKATE” centered around a well-known form: the skateboard. From elaborately decorated art objects to instruments visitors can play––  a simple slide guitar, xylophone and small set of drums–– this group has fun with form while keeping gallery visitors with limited hand mobility in mind.


Staff and artists at Artful Steps in San Leandro offer “Safe to Touch,” a wall dedicated to tactile art. Participants will move from the cool, rugged feel of mosaic tile and ceramic works, to the soft, subtle quality of quilted textiles, followed by textured, canvas paintings infused with mixed media. Below each written label there will be an additional description in braille.

Casper Banjo’s (1937–2008) hand-printed, elaborately embossed prints and mixed media works, on loan from M. Lee Stone Prints in San José, also showcase various applications of texture. In a 1973 self-portrait on view in DIS/PLAY we see an early background pattern that anticipates his later obsession with red brick patterns, symbolic of the barriers Banjo experienced and exposed through his art and activism. Also on view will be 3 sculptural pieces created by Banjo and historic photos of him wearing his painted brick pattern suit.


The brick wall is also featured in an evolving installation by artist Marilyn Hill and electronic engineer Nathan Hill to honor people with disabilities who have died as a result of their encounters with police or security officers. The piece is dedicated to Banjo, whose hidden disability may have been a factor in his death–– he was shot and killed by an Officer of the Oakland Police Department. The wall names and honors others in addition to Banjo, whose name will light up and pulse with color. A looping audio track recites the names and stories of lives that have been lost in this manner, and visitors are encouraged to add their own stories, words or phrases to the blank bricks in the wall.

Other audience-interactive works include “the words” by Nathan Hill and artist Marilyn Hill, which invites gallery visitors to write their own trigger words to a simple, animated installation that will grow and develop as the show progresses. In addition to audience-generated words, “the words” incorporates a looped sound poem for a multisensory experience.


Jazmin Zepeda, who creates her art at NIAD Art Center in Richmond, California, is as interested in fashion as she is in fine arts, and her work is often a blend of both. In addition to being an adept dress- and shirt-maker, Jazmin creates lyrical paintings that sport a serious sense of loneliness or melancholy, and objects that recall the work of Margaret Keane, and Japanese anime.

Exhibiting Artists:
Casper Banjo (1937–2008)
Owen Bragg
Charles Curtis Blackwell
David Call
Eric Crowell
Josh Denault
Raven Harper
Art Hazelwood
Sally Hearn
Todd Herman
Marilyn Hill
Nathan Hill
Sally Lewis
Rosinni Lusoc
Lisa Lyons
Darrin Martin
Corbett O’Toole
Roy Ward Ragle (1944–2014)
Jackie Riley
Katherine Sherwood
Diana Tonge
Michael Trujillo
Karim Tulloch
Anthony Tusler
Christian Vassell
Jennifer Villatore
Jazmin Zepeda

Performing Artists:
Axis Dance Company
Neal Barbosa
Charles Curtis Blackwell
The Comedians With Disabilities Act

Participating Organizations & Programs:
Artful Steps, Stepping Stones Growth Center, San Leandro
ArtReach Studios and Gallery, The Arc, San Francisco
Artists from Cypress School, Petaluma
Artists from NIAD Art Center, Richmond
Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University
Sins Invalid

Images top to bottom: “Resistance” by David Call; Image Courtesy of Todd Herman, video still from When I Stop Looking; Sally Lewis, The Swinging Castle, silk free-form embroidery, 6″ x 12″, 2010. Courtesy of Artful Steps; Casper Banjo, Self portrait, color etching and embossing, 23″ x 18.5″, 1/10, 1973. Courtesy of Lee Stone Fine Prints.; Jasmin Zepeda, Untitled, mixed media on canvas, 24′ x 18″, 2014. Courtesy of NIAD, Richmond.