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Disabled artists unfettered by limitations

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Blending bright paint colors to exude the ultimate in freedom of expression, the artists at the Independent Arts Gallery in Jamaica have been garnering a reputation as a nouveau force, unrestricted, at least, in their bold step to be visible.

The Gallery is home to some of the borough’s emerging painters, photograhers, poets, sculptors, who, undaunted by their disabilities, are shaping into something exciting. “Currently, we are hosting five or six shows a year.” said the center’s art director, Christian Valle. “Plus we had another on the outside,” referring to “Commemoration,” a recent exhibit at the Queensborough Community College Art Gallery in Bayside.

In addition to his role at the center, Valle has always contributed to the ongoing series of exhibitions that cater “to inform and educate people about disability, not just a flashy show and tell.” Lately, the artists have had a number of edcational exhibits, among them, “Generations,” “Celebrate,” “If You Look, You’ll See My Soul,” and the much talked about “Spirit of The ADA: Ccelebrating Disability In The New Millenium,” hosted at federal plaza less than two years ago.

As a not-for-profit outfit, the Gallery’s funding is provided through the Queens Independent Living Center, with support also from the Queens Arts Council. Since its inception in 1985, the gallery has wanted a home base came - an area where they could be surrounded by disability culture. They felt it would add to their image as a real community center reflecting the whole person.

Among the artists currently engaged with the organization is Nereida Rivera, a pragmatic painter who dwells in realism. Her work, which decorates the main room of the building at 140-40 Queens Boulevard, speaks volumes to endorse the idea that disability is just a frame of mind.

“Although my work doesn’t reflect any form of a disability that I may have,” she said, “ it is part of my ‘self,’ which is both reflective and introspective.” Passionate about her work, so far Rivera has worked in oils, acrylics, watercolors, pencils, and mixed media.

One dominant feature of her work is Native Americans. “I feel a connection to these once-nomadic people - I figure it’s their love, honor and respect for nature that has been rooted in my psyche,” she theorized.

Although she is confined to a wheelchair, due to multiple sclerosis, Rivera’s work moves far beyond her physical capabilities. Impressive peices such as “Lovers Embrace” - depicting a man and woman passionately wrapped in each other arms; and “Different Paths” - where a man on horse rides into the unknown leaving behind his paramour, are just glimpses of a larger vision.

With an affiliation of more than 300 artists, the gallery intends to bring the work of its painters into the mainstream of the art world.

“We intend to become recognized - anyone with disability can use this center,” said Valle. A quadraplegic due to a swimming accident at age 16, he is undaunted by his physical restriction. “Art is an escape from my disability,” he said.

A graduate of La Guardia Community College, the Puerto Rican native has been with gallery for the past two years. He is complemented by a staff of 32 workers, and seemed at ease as he goes about maintaning and operating the gallery.

Valle is optimistic disabled artists will eventually overcome stereotypes, “We want people to see that art has no eyes or ears, and judges no one,” he said from his wheelchair.

An exhibition is planned for July 21 to Aug. 26, at Adelphi University on Long Island.

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