Artist Roundtable: Through the Lens of Disability and Chronic Illness

The exhibition, Variance: Making, Unmaking, and Remaking Disability, considers how disability and illness are embodied and experienced, and how they have been represented by artists and deployed as visual tropes. In this program, artists Robert Andy Coombs, Riva Lehrer, and Dominic Quagliozzi discuss their work on view and the intersections between their artist practice and disability culture and experience. Moderated by Conor Moynihan, Assistant Curator, Prints, Drawings & Photographs. This program is presented with Brown University’s Cogut Institute for the Humanities.

Robert Andy Coombs grew up in Michigan's majestic Upper Peninsula where he spent his childhood roaming the great outdoors. He started photographing his walkabouts in middle school and moved on to portraiture in high school. Coombs received a scholarship to Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids Michigan. During his third year in undergrad, Coombs' sustained a spinal cord injury due to a gymnastics training accident. After a year of recovery, he returned to KCAD and received his BFA in photography in 2013. Coombs' photography explores the intersections of disability and sexuality. Themes of relationships, caregiving, fetish, and sex are depicted and explored throughout. Coombs graduated from the Yale School of Art amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently residing in sunny Miami Florida.


Riva Lehrer is an artist, writer and curator who focuses on the socially challenged body. She is best known for representations of people whose physical embodiment, sexuality, or gender identity have long been stigmatized. Lehrer’s work has been seen in venues including the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian, Yale University, the United Nations, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, the Arnot Museum, the DeCordova Museum, the Frye Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the State of Illinois Museum. Awards include the 2017 3Arts MacDowell Fellowship for writing, 2015 3Arts Residency Fellowship at the University of Illinois; the 2014 Carnegie Mellon Fellowship at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges; the 2009 Prairie Fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation. Grants include the 2009 Critical Fierceness Grant, the 2008 3Arts Foundation Grant, and the 2006 Wynn Newhouse Award for Excellence, (NYC), as well as grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the University of Illinois, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her memoir, Golem Girl, as recently published by the One World imprint of Penguin/Random House. Lehrer is represented by Regal Hoffman & Associates literary agency, NYC. Lehrer is on faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and instructor in the Medical Humanities Departments of Northwestern University.

Through various media, with a focus on drawing, painting and performance, Dominic Quagliozzi's work merges his lived experience as a person with chronic illness and disability into art. Using medical materials common to hospitals, clinics and home healthcare; hospital gowns, IV tubing, clinic table tissue paper, to name a few, Quagliozzi hints at the presence of a body past, present and future within the health care systems and sick-well-sick-well cycles. By repurposing and re-coding medical materials as art making materials, he explores the emotional and psychological space in those moments of vulnerability, anxiety, fragility and resilience. Parallel to his art practice, Dominic uses art as a method of teaching for medical students and health workers. Art as an empathetic engine to present modes of care to healthcare professionals.

Quagliozzi received a BA in Sociology from Providence College and a MFA in Studio Arts from Cal State University, Los Angeles. His work is in the permanent collection at the RISD Museum and a collaborative work in the permanent collection at Museum of Latin American Art, in Long Beach, CA.  He has exhibited work in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Providence and Denmark. In 2018, he was a Keynote speaker at the Nexus Summit for interprofessional care and education at the University of Minnesota. He is on the Arts Council for Creative Healing for Youth in Pain, as well as a mentor for people on the lung transplant waiting list. He has given workshops and lectures at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, USC Keck School of Medicine, Chapman University, Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Long Beach.