Inspired by our sisters’ ethic of giving away their creations, Javier Dragustinovis and I collaborated on Drawing Room, an installation that invites the public to take a plant or a potholder of their choice and make a drawing of it in exchange. Beyond serving as an act of reciprocity, the resulting drawings become an archive of the original items and bear the diverse perceptions and abilities of participants.
Our sisters, Bettina Valverde (b. 1960), who has a cognitive disability as a result of brain injury during birth, and Juany Dragustinovis (1956—2012), who developed schizophrenia as a young adult, have used the age-old practices of weaving and planting, among other activities, as a therapeutic outlet and as a means to connect with others.
Although they never met, Bettina and Juany were tied by interests and location. Residing in Los Fresnos, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, across the Rio Grande, Bettina and Juany each built a network of relationships with their families, friends, and neighbors through their creative pursuits. Bettina’s woven potholders and Juany's potted plants—which the artists propagated in metal cans as Juani did—attest to each woman’s perseverance in creating a meaningful life.
By enlarging our own and our sisters’ sphere of art making, Javier and I hope to spur reflection on diversity, inclusion, and equity in the arts. The installation also features work by Andrés Bruzzone Barcellone, an Argentinian artist with Down’s Syndrome whose poem, “There is Something About a Flower,” contributes a lyrical meditation on plant growth and functions as a metaphor for the creative process.
Drawing Room was featured in Fugitive Narratives, an exhibition curated by Mike Nourse at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago from April 22–August 5, 2018. Follow Drawing Room on Facebook.