Out to change lives
– and higher salary – if the artist’s career continues to progress, March said.
Pare is a productive student member hoping to soon become an associate. About 30 of her pieces have been reproduced internationally by MFPA since she joined, the organisation says.
“We feel that Mariam is one of the leading students in the United States,” March said, “and her artistic skill is at a very high level.”
All that renewed promise almost came to an end in 1998, when Pare got separated from friends on the bike path near Monroe Harbor and rolled into Lake Michigan.
She remembers landing at the bottom of the lake, staring about three metres to the surface and seeing the legs of people who jumped in to save her.
Three men first tried to yank her from the chair, but she was belted in, Pare recalled. They brought her and the chair to the surface, where she gasped for air and told them to release the seat belt. They had to submerge her again to do so, then carried her to the surface, Pare said.
As harrowing as the ordeal was, it “ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me”, she said. Pare made a painting for her rescuers and gave speeches about their heroism, which brought her and her art widespread exposure. It also yielded donations that paid for a new wheelchair.
“It restored my faith in people,” Pare said. “I’d had so many bad experiences and, already being a victim of gun violence, I didn’t like very many people. The outpouring of love that I received from that was life-changing.”
She’s out to change lives with art. In addition to giving private lessons, Pare is a member of the Rehabilitation Institute’s associate board, its fundraising arm. She is also a co-founder of STEAM Studios in Chicago.
The non-profit’s mission is to “provide world-class arts education” and become “a hub for social change and social justice through work in the arts”.
One of her pieces, Float, was selected for a juried show at Naperville’s Arterie Fine Arts centre that opened Feb 4 and runs for a month. Today, her work will be featured at Art In Motion at Northwestern University’s Lurie Center, where she will demonstrate mouth-painting at an art therapy fundraiser.
For all the success she’s experienced, Pare acknowledges the limitations, one of which is the “full-time job” of organising her life as a disabled person.
She texts and answers her cellphone by pecking it with her nose. In painting, her mouth isn’t nearly as versatile as her hand, and, when working on larger pieces, she can’t reach high enough and has to turn them upside down to finish the upper portions.
It is still difficult to see photos of herself, she said, and when giving private lessons to young, able-bodied artists, Pare has trained herself to avoid thinking about what could have been.
“It’s just some separation of the life before and the life now,” she said, “I think I’m OK with myself now, and I think it’s empowering to embrace who you are; what you are.” – Chicago Tribune/McClatchyTribune Information Services
Pare says that if she were unable to paint with a brush loosely set between her teeth on the right side of her mouth, she probably would wear a helmet with a paintbrush and make that work.