#SHAREYOURSTORY Feature: Ashley Bravin
I’ve always seen the UNITY in commUNITY, which is part of the reason I’ve always loved sharing the mic, the stage, and the spotlight.
The first time I was on stage was at the age of 4. Throughout my life, I’ve faced my own challenges being a Puerto Rican woman working in the entertainment industry getting booked as an artist (dancer, model, actress, singer, songwriter, guitarist, standup comedian...). It was so bad, I even used a stage name for a short period of time (Denise English), as an experiment to see if I could book more work. When I would get booked on shows, I noticed there was a big lack of diversity, so I decided to take Gandhi’s words to heart and “Be the change I wish to see in the world”.
Over the years, I’ve accomplished many things including producing and promoting “Ladies Night Music Festivals” in the US Virgin Islands, WO+MEN 4 A CAUSE advocacy events, WO+MEN 4 APPLAUSE comedy and music variety shows at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood and Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank. I was also the LA Cultural Examiner for Examiner.com for six years where I wrote articles featuring good news, and interviews with creative people making a difference from all walks of life. I created platforms that included disabled people, people of color, old, young, women, men, LGBTQ… I loved all of my lineups, features and interviews, because they showcased a beautiful and colorful diverse variety of amazing talent.
When I founded The Disabled Photographer Project, I put a call out on Instagram, Facebook and twitter inviting other disabled people to #SHAREYOURSTORY I speak, write, and create from my own personal experiences, and as I mentioned in a past instagram post I wrote, one disabled person’s experience is not all disabled people’s experience. I believe we all have unique experiences giving us a unique voice, and I believe we can all learn something from each other. My hope is by sharing stories, we can help bring awareness in order to bring changes that make the world equally accessible for everyone!
I would like to introduce to you an artist who I discovered because of The Disabled Photographer Project, who inspires me with her art, strength, and being! Her name is Ashley Bravin:
-Hi Ashley, Tell me about yourself:
Hello, and thank you for including me in your project! My name is Ashley, and I’m an artist, disability advocate, multiple chronic illness warrior, service dog handler, and long-time lover of the outdoors. Art has always been my lifelong passion, and the outdoors has not only been my favorite escape, but also a constant inspiration for my artistic practice. I have a background with scientific illustration and an entire portfolio of animal illustrations and landscape work, so needless to say, my connection with nature is deep. My love and respect for the natural world was fostered at a young age and now it is my life-long goal to travel and visit all of the national parks.
-Tell me whatever you’d like to share about your disability:
I struggle with a host of debilitating chronic illnesses, including fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, chronic migraines, vasovagal syncope, NDI (a rare kidney disease), gastroparesis, bipolar 1, PTSD, and a very severe seizure disorder with multiple daily seizures. I have been fortunate enough to have a strong support system and the help of my partner, family, friends, and two incredible medical alert dogs (Roise, my rescued border collie mix who will be retiring soon, and Rico, my golden retriever service dog in training) over the past seven years who have assisted me tremendously. I also use a mobility device (rollator), which has been a tremendous asset.
-What is your favorite thing to do that makes you happy?
Honestly my favorite thing to do is to be making artwork, whether it’s being in the studio or “in the field,” out in nature with my sketchbook or an easel. The act of creating allows me to lose myself entirely.
-How did you get into drawing & painting?
I started creating the moment my mother put butcher paper on our coffee table with a box of crayons as a toddler. I never stopped. And that is the honest truth. I was a voracious drawer as a kid. From there I tore through sketchbook after sketchbook. My parents always remember that I used to carry around sketchbooks larger than myself to the dinner table when we went out. I took every class I could get into, tried every tool I could get my hands on, read every “How to Draw” book. I eventually got a mentorship with a local “real-deal” artist in high school, and that really solidified everything and sent me on the path to art school, then to a residency in Ireland and New York (twice), fellowships, and then becoming a practicing artist in Los Angeles.
-Is there any advice you can offer to other disabled people that might be interested in creating art at home but don’t know how to get started? Tips? Your process?
Absolutely. Just do it. It sounds contrived, but it’s the advice I’ve gotten from everyone I’ve ever respected, and it’s the only advice that’s ever worked for me. It doesn’t matter if the work you’re making is good. What matters is that you’ve shown up, that you’ve gotten into the studio, or to the kitchen table, or wherever, and put brush to canvas or pen to paper. For that, you're one step further ahead than yesterday. Good work will come, Make a bad painting. Make ten bad paintings. Make a hundred. Talent isn’t born. It’s made. Sign up for classes you’re interested in online, even if you think it’s a reach. There’s a lot of resources at your local community colleges, but also free classes on Discords, and available through different individual artists’ websites at nominal fees, just follow your interests, but do it. Also keep a sketchbook! That’s a fantastic low stress way to start. Draw whenever, wherever you can, from bed, during appointments, while you’re watching TV. You will improve dramatically. If you’re interested in nature journaling on your trips into the outdoors, John Muir Laws is an excellent resource.
-You’ve been the recipient of grants and a fellowship surrounding violence & sports. Tell me if you would like what inspired that topic?
So this is a really interesting topic for me that I could talk for days for, but part of the reason that I went to Carnegie Mellon University is because it had so much research funding. While I am very much an artist, I am also very much into research, and like to tie research into a lot of my artworks (see ”25 of 25,000 Deer”). I received two grants and a fellowship to investigate the surge of blood sports, focusing on depression era boxing in comparison to dog fighting in Kabul post Taliban regime in 2010 on the basis of political, social, and economic unrest, and resulted in a lecture on my findings, and a series of massive, six foot square paintings of these sports. The series was inspired by the news coverage of the surge of the dog fighting at the time, and the reading I had been doing about gladiator fights at the colosseum, and boxing, and how violent sports surge when social structures fall. Interestingly, the boxing paintings have since been shown at the Los Angeles Athletic Club for their main event boxing nights, which I find to be appropo.
-All of your work is beautiful, I especially love your “Get Well Soon” series & National Park series? What inspired you to create those series?
Thank you! The “Get Well Soon” series is a collection of gouache paintings of some of the flower bouquets I’ve received along my chronic illness journey, usually painted from my couch while I was very sick, along with an accompanying caption that chronicles what was happening at the time (usually some sort of medical crisis) that I received them. I wanted to use the “Get Well Soon” title as a sort of irony because so many people say that to chronically ill people like myself meaning well, but there’s no getting well for us, not now, not ever.
The National Park series was a portion of my April challenge where I was doing a painting a day, and decided to feature the majesty of the country’s national parks by painting a view of a national park a day. have a long-standing history with visiting the national parks tracing back to when I was seven and did a tour of several national parks with my neighborhood friends and our mothers, which created the drive in me to visit the entire lot of them one day. I actually have a bubble map on my wall tracking my progress.
-Do you face accessibility issues When going outdoors? If so what are the challenges you face?
Unfortunately, yes. Firstly, I have the barrier of my service dog. If it’s a “no dogs allowed”, park or trail, people tend to have a big issue if I have my service dog with me, and I regularly have to defend my right to be in a space even if my service dog is clearly marked with a vest or harness. Secondly now that I use a rollator/transport chair for my fatigue and seizures, which is not as rugged as say a wheelchair, sidewalks with raised edges and potholes will easily flip my device and could be devastating. I have hurt myself on my own many times, and we have had so many serious close calls. Maintenance of walkways is a major issue.
-I see you are a service dog handler, is there a special process you have to go through to visit the National parks with service dogs?
For the most part, the National Parks have been very accommodating with my team. I explain to them upon entrance that I have a service dog with me. They definitely appreciate it more if I have my dog marked (in a clearly marked vest or harness) so they don’t have to come up and ask if my dog is working (especially because most of the parks are not dog friendly due to wanting to conserve the park’s habitat). We did have one special circumstance with Crystal Cave in Sequoia, but that was because of the unbelievably fragile ecosystem of the bat population - Rosie was the second or third service dog to ever go in the cave, and we had to call weeks in advance to get approval, and she wore boots and we had to get a special talk of how to navigate the cave. If you are a service team thinking of visiting the parks, just be respectful, communicate with the rangers, and you will be fine. And if you have any questions, feel free to ask me!
-Are there any accessibility issues in the outdoors you would like to see improved?
I will say, for the most part, the park systems themselves are by and far ahead of the curve of accessibility of the general population, however - fix the gouged/uprooted accessible walkways. If able-bodied people are tripping over it, so will disabled people with mobility devices, and it could be life threatening. Also, I’ve encountered several facilities that do not accommodate the average size of a mobility device to pass through (especially with swinging doors) - this is obviously problematic.
-Is there anything you’d like to bring awareness to or educate people on what they should or not do when it comes to how they approach disabled people?
DO NOT PET THE SERVICE DOG. Please and thank you.
-Where can people learn more about you & your art?
Thank you so much for having me!
My art: @ashleybravin
My disability / service dog IG: @insicknessandindog
Ashley Bravin ∣ Artist
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