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Transforming Los Angeles into a Massive Art Installation

Sharona Franklin

By Jasper McMahon

All of your work seems to stem from your lived experience as a chronically disabled person. Can you speak to the beginning of your journey as an artist?

It took me a really long time to publicly identify as disabled. In the late ‘90s, when I was diagnosed, disability was still divisive. I hadn’t seen representations that I identified with in pop culture. So, when I was young, I was very secretive about my experiences. Part of that was uncertainty of how people would react, and part was not fully accepting myself.  But I always made art sculptures, food art, album art, or rave was an escape. In the back of my mind, I wanted to be more vocal about my experiences, but it didn’t always feel safe to do so. It was only five years ago that I started to speak up, especially online. One-on-one with someone, you’re not sure how they are going to react or how it might impact a personal or work relationship. But with the internet, you’re able to connect with other disabled folks and it created a place where people who were interested could reach me.

There’s a motif of botanical & homeopathic elements in your work. What is your relationship with natural medicine alternatives?

My relationship with alternative medicine started really young. Being put on heavy-duty medications, you wonder, “Am I going to survive this?” Is my illness actually worse than these medications? I started researching natural medicine through newsletters at health food stores or books I found at thrift shops. I was really hard on myself—I wanted to go off all my medications. And while they didn’t change my DNA, I did find that the natural remedies often helped. I started figuring out ways of biohacking my diet on a really limited income, because we lived in pretty extreme poverty, especially when I was a teenager. We lived out in the woods and in rural neighborhoods—dirt road type places toward the interior of British Columbia, Canada. There were rattlesnakes and cacti, but also more humid environments with mountains, waterfalls, ferns, and pine trees. So I was also trying to learn from my environment—things like using pine resin as a salve.

Part of your work (at least one piece comes to mind) seems to play on the visual contrast of ‘beautiful’ botanical elements alongside the ‘sterile’ medical images like syringes etc. How do you view the worlds of pharmaceutical vs natural medicines?
Did you feel the sort of stigma as a kid?
You’ve also talked about the idea of biocitizenship in some of your interviews. Can you explain a bit about the idea of biocitizenship?
You have talked about the guilt imposed on you by being a seemingly “less productive” member of society, by taking measures to stay safe. It seems that everyone is now dealing with that same feeling now by having to stay at home. What is your reaction to this crisis sort of leveling the playing field?
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the public has been given a glimpse into the myriad of flaws of medical institutions globally. Is there now a greater understanding/ sympathy for what a disabled person’s life is like, or has it only brought to light ableist ignorance?
Do you ever wish that your work could be removed from your lived experience?

I do wish that sometimes. My previous work included graphic design, curating, throwing dance parties, music shows or dinners. But at that time, I also wasn’t open with people in my life about my experience. So, now that I share a lot more, I don’t know if it would be possible. I think it’s important that people remember that production from a disabled body is often through a different means. Before people knew what my day-to-day experiences were, they expected a lot. They didn’t know what I had to do to prepare, or that afterward I would be bedridden with swollen joints. Now that I’m open about my barriers, people are a lot more supportive.

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