I simply cannot believe I didn’t post this video months ago! The only person I’ve ever known personally who’s done a TEDx, and I forgot to post the video—this is inexcusable. I adore the speaker, and always have, and there’s a story there, of course.
This video is of a TEDx Grand Rapids talk called ”Valuable Bodies” by artist Riva Lehrer. I’ve known her since the mid-1980s when we worked for the same company. I immediately saw that she was a kindred spirit. One year for my birthday she made me a 3D fluorescent dragon on fluorescent card stock with an impossibly bright stone for an eye. I kept it for many years, and lost it only when I moved to New Zealand. Much to my regret!
She’s gone on to far bigger and better things since we worked together, and has done what I think is amazing work. I also think the YouTube description talks of her work pretty well:
Portraits are power struggles that take place on either side of the easel. They answer the question of whose life, and therefore whose death, matters. Disabled people have rarely been portrait subjects, and have largely been absent from the the walls of art museums. Riva Lehrer discusses how her work takes on this history of invisibility, and why portraits of stigmatized people have a real effect on who does, in fact, live or die in our contemporary world.
Riva Lehrer is an instructor in medical humanities at Northwestern University, and an artist/writer focusing on issues of physical identity and the socially challenged body. Her work has been presented across the nation, including at the United Nations, Smithsonian Museum and the Chicago Cultural Center, and featured in numerous documentaries, including The Paper Mirror and Self Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer. Her writing and art have also been included in publications such as Criptiques and Sex and Disability.TEDx events are independently organised by a local community, expanding on TED, and bringing it local. There have been a lot of really great TEDx talks, and this is only one of them.
Riva is an amazing person, an amazing artist, and one of the best people I’ve ever known. In addition to TEDx, she’s also one of the handful of people I’ve known who have a Wikipedia entry. But, all that’s beside the point: Her work and her vision are all awesome in their own right. But, I met her before all that, and her humanity and presence shone even beyond all that, and even way back then.
I simply cannot speak highly enough of her or her work. Which is why I'm so embarrassed to realise I didn't share this video months ago.