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Gender, Health, Family
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North America
Relevant key words for this story, separated by commas (eg. Africa, Hurricane Katrina, Mother Teresa):
sisters, cerebral palsy, illness, body image 
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Chasing light is a collaborative photographic project with my twin sister about our experiences with cerebral palsy. identity, shame, and stigma within non-normative bodies.
Riel Sturchio

2017 — student award of excellence

Since birth, my twin sister and I have uniquely struggled with cerebral palsy, illness, and our inherent identities as twins. Millions of individuals experience varying degrees of identity challenges due to sibling-hood as well as health-related ailments. This is often done in silence, sometimes in shame, and often without adequate support. While watching her continually face adversity, biased marginalization, and isolation, I started questioning socially constructed belief and value systems around themes of non-normative and queer identity, disability, and sickness, in relationship with my personal experience with stigma, and outward disbelief around my subtle and near-invisible symptoms. Our collaborative photography project, Chasing Light (2014-ongoing), mainly gives her a supportive platform to share her experiences, struggles, and achievements. It helps empower her by letting her direct images, perspective, and content. In the face of adversity I wish to bring to light the importance of acceptance and awareness within community. 

Authentic and vulnerable images that depict a distinct yet universal reality can help shift the landscape of non-normativity and disease away from disempowering associations and connotations. It can help enrich the discussion to include successes, achievements, courage, strength, and emotional aptitude it takes to endure such turmoil. Stigmatized labels are maintained by dialogues that often disempower, disengage, or exclude those who don’t fit into a social norm. Chasing Light is beneficial to all individuals able-bodied or not, who find themselves outside of the socio-normative mold. It engages those who relate to challenges with the body’s physical appearance, capabilities, one’s own social identity, self-identity, self-stigma, and shame. It allows myself and others a greater understanding of non-normative ability and disability. The project entails an inherent political aspect as it mainly looks at marginalized body that is disabled, queer, and female. I am interested in the political aspects of this project, especially in the face of the contemporary political climate, where certain health care and practices for female-bodies is becoming less accessible, and in some cases, illegal.
This project is important because it starts a conversation about the stigmatized body, and allows others to consider a more compassionate, informed, and empowering view about difficulties, and hardships for those who have disabilities. In order to achieve this project, my sister and I collaborate to create emotional, vulnerable, and raw images that reflect our intimate relationship. We work together in a documentary-style as well as setting up images. We shoot on analogue film, and she always has a say in what is allowed to be included or omitted in the project. 

The project has the potential to reach an infinite audience, directly by showcasing the work in a gallery setting, accessible public spaces, educational environments, and indirectly by publishing it online. It’s my intention to show this work in economic and socially accessible venues with adequate wheelchair access. I wish to co-host dialogues with my sister, and encourage safe public discussions. For example, in March 2015 we Chasing Light at the Colburn Gallery at the University of Vermont, with help from a grant from the Maine Arts Commission. We invited groups of undergraduate students into the gallery and asked them to sit down, transforming the typical gallery space into a more comfortable discussion space. We then talked about our experiences, and encouraged participation. We talked to an eclectic range of over 75 students, many of whom disclosed their personal experiences and curiosities, which created a platform for students to connect with one another in a safe and engaged way. It is my hope that moving forward, our work can continue to safely connect, and engage otherwise disparate or misunderstood audiences. 

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