By Mellany Armstrong
Picture the blue and yellow swirls of Van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night. Now imagine you are a blind artist recreating that painting. The canvas might include words, like “swirling” and “rolling,” much like the art Jade Ramos ’19 creates.
“A lot of people don’t know how to describe stuff to blind people,” said Ramos. “I want to change that.”
A lot of Ramos’ art is informed by her activism on behalf of people with disabilities. The Fine Arts major who is minoring in Textiles has less than 10 percent of her vision, and uses layers and textures to spread messages about disability rights and to spotlight artists who made fabulous works of art despite having trouble seeing.
“My thesis is me ‘writing’ paintings made by artists who had visual impairments that no one talks about, like Rembrandt, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Georgia O’Keeffe,” she said. “O’Keeffe had tunnel vision, that’s why she painted all those really zoomed-in images of flowers.”
Ramos’ studio at Moore is a collage of colorful large-stenciled words on varying sizes of paper – nouns and verbs broken in odd places, similar to an optometrist’s eye chart. Other works look like scribbles, but look more closely and you see layers and layers of stenciled words. She also makes tactile puzzles.
“People come in here and they don’t know what to focus on, like, it’s hard,” she said, and that’s exactly what she wants visitors to feel. The message of her art is to convey the experience of what it’s like to live with a disability. Her favorite piece is a board covered in white fur, with white tacks forming letters in Braille. It reads, “Don’t wait until you’re disabled to care about disability rights.”
“I liked that it was inaccessible immediately, because most things are for people who can’t see,” she said.
Born prematurely at 24 weeks weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces, Ramos has been dealing with health problems all her life.
“All my vision issues essentially stem from retinopathy of prematurity,” she said. A partially detached retina in her left eye has left her with tunnel vision. She also has a mild form of cerebral palsy that affects her legs.
Her activism began after she had surgery to remove her right eye March 12, 2015. It was the first time she was old enough to make her own decision about surgery.
“When I woke up, my first thought was, ‘I should start documenting this.’ It was the first watercolor self-portrait I did,” she said. “This really ignited a thing in me.”
She began signing her art “One Ojo,” ojo meaning “eye” in Spanish.
“I thought it was cool, because they both start with O and it fits in terms of me knowing both languages,” said Ramos, who is Puerto Rican. “I think it’s a good representation of me as a person, and I literally have one eye, so it fits.”
She continued making watercolors and selfies through the healing process, and then through the fitting of an ocular prosthetic to match her dark brown left eye. As she became an adult and a college student, she found barriers to navigating her world.
“I go to museums, and some of it is inaccessible, whether it’s too far away and I can’t get too close, or I can’t use my phone (to enlarge) the wall tags,” she said.
Ramos participates in local disability activism with the group Disability Pride Philadelphia. She was commissioned recently to make art for t-shirts for the eighth annual Philadelphia Disability Pride Week, June 10 – 15.
Ramos graduates in December and she wants to work with people with disabilities.
“I just want to help other people do what I’m doing, just help them make art,” she said.
And she’d like to educate others through her art, by making them see through her words. Close your eyes and imagine as you listen to her description of The Starry Night: “Scattered stars, crescent moons, swirling sky blues, rolling hills of grassy greens and a cypress tree surrounds a church and a village below.”