Photo essay: DisArt fashion show 'Elevate' breaks boundaries & barriers

DisArt’s spectacular 'Elevate' fashion show at Site:Lab's Rumsey Street Project showcased models with disabilities, pushed the expectations of design and redefined sentiments of style, access and bodies.
Grand Rapidians across the ability spectrum gathered for DisArt’s spectacular “Elevate” fashion show at Site:Lab's Rumsey Street Project this past Saturday night, and, with a blaze of color, fabric and general fabulousness, the models pushed the expectations of design and redefined sentiments of style, access and bodies.

Rapid Growth’s managing photographer, Adam Bird, got the chance to attend the fashion show, which was streamed live for all those who could not attend. The following photos are his glimpse into the event that broke boundaries and barriers.

DisArt, a group that works to change perceptions about disability through art, partnered with Site:Lab, which creates temporary site-specific art projects aimed at facilitating collaborations among the art, education, business, and cultural communities of Grand Rapids, for the show, held at Site:Lab’s location at 333 Rumsey St. SW, in Grand Rapids' Roosevelt Park neighborhood. Presented the first weekend of ArtPrize 8, the event challenged audiences to reimagine the physical and experiential world through the show’s disabled models, who donned curated fashions made by designers from West Michigan, New York, Chicago, Mexico, and Boston.

“I always felt challenged out of fear of not being accepted,” Reyna Garcia, a local artist and one of the models in the show, says in a statement from DisArt. Garcia was one of two women wearing a dress by Mexican designer Guadalupe Quero, with Zahra Shirzad, a refugee from Afghanistan, being the other model showing off a Quero creation.

Garcia goes on to say that being in “Elevate” made her feel “validated” and able to demonstrate that “I have accepted my body and my disability 100 percent, without fear and with the strength to continue to live my life fully and with a sense of acceptance.”

DisArt’s “Hybrid Structures,” an ArtPrize entry, doubled as the show’s runway. To create “Hybrid Structures,” a complex system of ramps and platforms, DisArt partnered with artists Paul Amenta, Alois Kronschlaeger and Ted Lott. The piece, which features ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, allows individuals to travel between three buildings at Site:Lab's Rumsey Street site. At its highest point, people climb 16 feet, giving them a unique perspective of the location.

DisArt’s ArtPrize entry “promises to offer a wide variety of audiences an experience that transcends the normal boundaries of bodies and buildings,” DisArt Executive Director Christopher Smit explains.

“The structure transforms everyday objects,” such as ramps, walls and windows, “into platforms of possibility and discovery,” Smit goes on to say. “The significance of this exercise becomes deeper as audience members interact with the key issues of inclusion, diversity and disability itself.”

If you missed the fashion show, you still have plenty of time to check out “Hybrid Spaces” at 333 Rumsey St. throughout ArtPrize, with the DisArt Hybrid Gallery offering an exhibition of documentary photography by the renowned disability rights photographer Tom Olin. Curated by Elizabeth VanArragon, the exhibition, “Access is a Civil Right: The Photography of Tom Olin,” presents striking images of the nationwide fight for access by individuals who are disabled.

The Rumsey Street gallery will also be a site for other DisArt programming during ArtPrize, including a poetry reading by University of Michigan Professor Petra Kuppers, author of “Pearl Stitch,” and Stephanie Heit on Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. Learn more about this event here.

For more information about the DisArt gallery and its programming, you can go here.

Photography by Adam Bird
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