Image Description: painting of an amorphous, colorful figure that sits in and seems to be part of a wheelchair — two black wheels are present, but otherwise it is unclear exactly what part is the figure and what part is the chair. The figure seems vaguely humanoid in that it “sits” in/on/around the wheelchair, but has no discernable limbs, head, or other physical features. Instead, the figure’s multicolored form twists and branches out from its trunk.
Too often, disability and mobility aids are often regarded as separable from disabled people, or worse, something that exists outside of, or in opposition to nature and goodness. This painting rejects that ableist premise and instead frames a wheelchair as essential to and integrated with the divine and good.
I think that the way many disabled people (including myself) personify their mobility aids is fascinating, and I took inspiration from that phenomenon while creating this piece.
The colors and style of my work are guided in part by my disability; I don’t have the motor skills for precise work and need higher-contrast colors for vision reasons. This has shaped my art to emphasize bright, varied colors as I embrace big, blobby shapes. Watercolors are well-suited to this approach. In this painting, I also did some strategic water dripping to make the colors of the divine’s “body” flow up and out and into the ether.
I was deliberate in titling the piece The Divine rather than A Divine, not because I think that there is only one or because I claim to possess such a singular truth, but because I want this portrayal to sit solidly in opposition to the white, male, cis/straight, nondisabled god that is so often elevated and granted the “the” when others are simply an “a”– much in the same way that writing about a normative/privileged god is considered “theology” while other areas of study are “queer theology,” “Black theology,” “disability theology,” etc. This god in/of a wheelchair is not a novelty or token, but an equally valid and plausible understanding of divinity as any other.
Wheelchairs provide freedom — however individual and/or limited by inaccessibility — to many disabled people. And insofar as divine beings represent or create freedom for some people, it felt appropriate to me to portray a god in/as a wheelchair.
Samir Knego is Editorial Assistant at Decolonial Passage and has published essays, poems, and visual art in various journals and zines. He lives in North Carolina with a bright green wheelchair and a little black dog. Find him at https://twitter.com/SamirKnego, https://www.instagram.com/samirknego/, and https://verydecaf.blogspot.com/