The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ (MMFA) Créer pour s’Aimer is an exhibition defined by its name (Creating to Love Oneself). The exhibition displays the work of individuals in an art therapy program called Les Impatients, through which members of the Montreal community with cognitive disabilities attend workshops and create art in a multitude of mixed media forms. The amateur artists featured in the show are impatient to dismantle the barriers imposed on them through stigma by furthering their artistic abilities. The program uses art to put issues of identity and expression into the participants’ hands.
Basic instruction offered in La Promenade Atelier International d’Éducation et d’Art-Thérapie educates participants on artistic technique and rendering the human form. In addition to more free association style drawing and painting practices, members of Les Impatients derive inspiration from pieces in the MMFA’s collection or work from canonized artists such as Marc Chagall. Interpretations of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Marcelle Lender doing the Bolero in ‘Chilperic’ (1895), line one of the walls of the gallery, conveying a fascination with the dancer’s elegant pose.
The exhibition’s works take the human body and breaks it into parts—including sculptures of hands, heads, and facial portraiture. There is a sense of both composition and decomposition to the plaster molds, allowing participants to approach their own identities by analyzing features that render them no different than members of broader society despite their cognitive disabilities. Les Mains de l’Espoir captures sculptural hands in various positions and offers a sense of ambiguity; they are the hands of hope actively grasping for a sense of personal understanding, while at the same time highlighting their entrapment within the gallery walls. Les Têtes Imaginent, a series of unpainted clay heads and busts, references the ability to transcend social or personal restrictions in the imaginative realm.
Other elements of the exhibition are more playful: A life-sized human sculpture uses paper paintings to form the ruffles of her dress; portraiture in the gallery captures moments of humor by layering drawings on transparent paper on bright backgrounds. The tension between non-professional art and the MMFA’s professional environment introduces a more accessible element to the art community, in which gallery spaces are not simply limited to established artists, but have increasingly become a venue for artist-to-viewer dialogues in a less traditional sense.
Créer pour s’Aimer is an artistic experience that uses art’s ability to convey thoughts, feelings, and visual perceptions of self through methods as simple as picking up a pencil. As an Impatient, self-expression is charged in a way often not understood by people who are not disabled. Rather than simply carrying the weight of personal perception, one must also contend with the identity inscribed upon them by a society with seemingly endless opinions on what individuals with disabilities are and are not capable of. In collaboration with the MMFA and numerous volunteers and instructors, Les Impatients have the opportunity to shed stereotypes of limitations through the creative process.
Créer pour s’Aimer is on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until April 1.