Gabby DaSilva on Invisible Illness
When someone tells you they are disabled or unable in any way, what do you do? Do you mock them or question them? Are you dismissive? Do you roll your eyes and beg them to prove it to you? If you are an able person, do you compare your experiences to theirs as if your life is more valid? Do you even listen? When some tells you they are disabled or unable in any way, are you supporting them?
The art I create has not always been about disability, or even myself for that matter. I used to enjoy drawing abstract persons, sketches of unclaimed hands and unknown faces. However, coming from a city like Saskatoon, I had yet to visualize art as a successful future. And when I got sick in 2018, art felt like an even smaller possibility. Fast forward to Winter 2020, I took my first ever video art class at the University of Saskatchewan, and my very sick self finally discovered that art was in the cards for me. I spent the next two years studying video, sound art, and animation. I graduated with a BFA Honors in Studio Art in June 2022.
I have not always been this way. Every day I must work on keeping myself well. I have held this disability since 2018, and it is still difficult. It often creates more confusion than clarity because it goes by greatly unseen. And I don’t want to only be known by my disability. Instead, I wish to change the system, and diminish the prejudices that I, and others like myself, have experienced.
I remember initially refusing to accept my disorder. I refused to identify in this way because, ultimately, I did not want to learn better practices to best care for my new self. But now I understand and accept this as just another layer of my complex person. And while avoidance was a huge part of my struggles to get to where I am now, what has changed beyond my own self growth? What has changed beyond the cultures and knowledge I have learnt and therefore shared within my inner circles? Has accessibility been embraced within the communities and places I attend? Am I doing enough for those like myself? Eventually I noticed Saskatoon’s non-existent acknowledgement towards the vast landscape of both disability and accessibility in its art community, despite the number of artists themselves identifying as “unwell,” or in need of assistance in some way. I want to shift the spotlight onto those who are unwell or unable, because even as an emerging artist, I have already heard enough ignorance.
I decided to start a zine because of both frustration and exhaustion. In the summer of 2022, I was forcefully removed from a major art event in Saskatoon because no one understood or even listened to my pleas of disability. My everyday slurred speech and shaky body were no match for the abled voices that argued against me. This event was not the first or even the last time that I was assumed to be unable. It was traumatic. I was in sheer disbelief that a gallery where I have shown work was escorting me down the elevator and out the front door all because they assumed I was inebriated, not disabled. The next day I remember thinking, “How will anyone ever know me if they refuse to listen? How will they understand my community, those who are unable or unwell like myself, those who are crip, sick, deaf, mad, ill, disabled and just need their voices to be heard?” I could not get these thoughts out of my head, so what began as a very unfortunate situation transpired into this sudden desire to create the zine invisibly ill, not just to share my own voice but the underrepresented voices of my community as well.
invisibly ill is a free and accessible, six-spread, DIY magazine for those who hold or have experiences with invisible illnesses in Saskatchewan. The very first issue was released in November 2022 as a physical copy within the Saskatoon community. This first issue focuses on my experiences as a disabled artist who often appears able, and why I was ultimately compelled to create invisibly ill. For the second issue of invisibly ill, and all future issues, I am asking for submissions from those who identify as members of the disabled and invisible illness communities within Saskatchewan. The second issue is expected to be out by Fall 2023!
Gabby Da Silva is a (dis)abled artist fascinated with the collaboration between digital and physical mediums. With a conceptual approach, she makes work that deals with the documentation of events and the questions of how they can be presented. Born and raised in Saskatoon, Gabby comes from a close family whom she credits for their strength, especially when she was diagnosed with a neurological disorder in 2019. Her work responds to both her surrounding environments and everyday experiences, and is often accompanied by her own cluttered spoken word. Since graduating with her BFA honors in Studio Art, Gabby continues to practice as an artist, forever discovering new ways to express herself and her communities through art.