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“The Chair is Not Me” exhibit displayed in gallery

January 15, 2020 | Jennifer Burris

An educational exhibit “The Chair is Not Me,” is on display in the First Bank & Trust Art Gallery at Dakota State through February 28.

The exhibit features artwork alongside poems from the book “The Chair is Not Me,” by “JJ” James Janis. The book is a collection of poems about his life experiences and challenges as a diversely abled individual. JJ was born with cerebral palsy, complicated by several other conditions. At birth, doctors expected him to live just 12 hours, but he is still here 60 years later.

“Individuals with disabilities have been historically disenfranchised,” said Heather Pickering, artistic director of Flutter Productions, part of Black Hills Works. Black Hills Works serves people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, visual or hearing impairments, brain injuries, chronic illnesses, physical challenges and more.

“This is a show that allows viewers to see the world through a different lens, and to walk in the shoes of an individual who has been separated from society on many levels,” she said. “The goal is to offer a cultural exchange – to help people think about, learn from, and connect to people who are diversely abled and create general awareness and empathy.”

Eleven of JJ’s poems are currently displayed in the FB&T Gallery with illustrations by artists of diverse abilities and cultures through Black Hills Works. The organization supports over 600 adults with disabilities in the Rapid City area, according to Pickering.

“If an individual was inspired by a particular poem, they could submit a drawing to couple with the poem,” Pickering explained. “In some cases, some of the artists, that work at the Suzie Cappa Art Center (also a member of the Black Hills Works family), were known for a specific subject matter, or style of drawing that perfectly coupled with some of the pieces, and they were encouraged to submit a piece for a specific poem.”

It’s important for the audience to be better informed about people of diverse abilities, JJ shared. In the 1960s, people were kind of ignorant and unsure how to treat and talk to people with diverse abilities, he added.

“Many still struggle with this today,” JJ said. “It is important to start a conversation so the next generation of people with disabilities, and without, can better understand and respect one another, and not have to go through or endure what the previous generations have had to.” 

A public reception will be held on Wednesday, January 22 from 5 to 7 p.m.

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Jennifer Burris
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