Press Release: In group exhibition DIS/PLAY artists with and without disabilities claim and define their own identities, experiment, and make their own rules.
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AXIS Dance Company’s Divide by Marc Brew, 2014. Dancers Sonsherée Giles, Joel Brown & Sebastian Grubb. Photo by Ren Dodge.
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Sally Lewis,  The Swinging Castle, silk free-form embroidery, 6" x 12", 2010. Courtesy of Artful Steps.
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Jess Young, Director of Communications & Community Engagement
SOMArts Cultural Center
415-863-1414 x112 •

SOMArts Cultural Center Presents
Exhibition March 24–April 23, 2015
Opening Event Thursday, March 26, 6pm to 9pm

San Francisco, CA, January 22, 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, on view March 24 through April 23, 2015, 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.

On Wednesday, April 8, 6pm to 9pm, there will be exhibition docent tours, a free performance by AXIS Dance Company, a screening of their new short film and a panel discussion featuring dancers and exhibiting visual and media artists. The panel probes the limits of disability as a social construct and the ways that “performance” is an embedded and important facet of the disability experience.

The final opportunity to view and interact with DIS/PLAY on Thursday, April 23, 6pm to 9pm, features short film screenings in the gallery, including recent work by artist Todd Herman, co-founder of performance project “Sins Invalid”, as well as poetry, and pizza from Mozzeria, a Mission District restaurant whose owners and many of its staff are deaf. Among the featured poets is exhibiting painter Charles Curtis Blackwell, subject of the PBS film “A different color blue.”

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.

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
Patti Konoski
Cathy Kudlick
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
Christian Vassell
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

The exhibition and all related events take place at SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St. (between 8th & 9th Streets), San Francisco, CA, 94103, unless otherwise noted.

SOMArts is wheelchair/ADA accessible. ASL interpretation will be provided during all of DIS/PLAY's accompanying events.

DIS/PLAY Group Exhibition
Exhibition on view March 24–April 23, 2015. Free admission during gallery hours: Tuesday–Friday, 12–7pm and Saturday, 12–5pm.

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.

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.

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.

SOMArts (South of Market Arts, Resources, Technology, and Services) was founded in 1979 and operates the South of Market Cultural Center, one of four city-owned cultural facilities in San Francisco. SOMArts supports exhibitions, performances, classes and other collaborations that serve its mission: to promote and nurture art on the community level and foster an appreciation of and respect for all cultures.

SOMArts is located at 934 Brannan Street—between 8th and 9th—within 2 blocks of 101, I-80, Muni lines and bike paths. For public information call 415-863-1414 or visit Stay connected by following us on Twitter, Flickr and Facebook.

The Commons Curatorial Residency Program nurtures a creative cultural environment in the Bay Area by providing space and support for exhibitions that take risks, promote cultural connectivity and learning, and instigate accessible, multifaceted participation in the arts. Selected artists and groups receive support consisting of a $3,000 grant, a month-long exhibition at SOMArts, 80+ hours of technical assistance, and help with traditional and social media outreach to connect their work with new audiences. Through this support, Bay Area artists can engage the community, expand their practice and turn vision into reality.

SOMArts’ exhibition programs are generously supported by the San Francisco Arts Commission, The San Francisco Foundation and individual donors, and are sponsored in part by a grant from Grants for the Arts. For more information about upcoming events, space rentals and technical services, visit or call 415-863-1414.