There is truly nothing that can limit a determined person. This is an inspirational story of a young lady whose paintings have brought her fame despite her disability. Read this interesting piece.
Painting With Her Feet, an Artist ‘Expresses Who I Am’
Sitting in front of a canvas, Linda Riveros paused to consider her next brush stroke.
She stretched her leg toward a cup of paintbrushes and gripped one with the two largest toes on her right foot. She dipped the brush in paint, lifted her foot to eye level and continued to fill in the palm tree on the canvas.
Ms. Riveros, who was born without arms, was creating art here this month for her first solo exhibition, “Painting With My Feet.”
“Happiness, faith, hope, harmony,” Ms. Riveros, 32, said of her pieces, which depict tropical birds, women’s legs and beach landscapes, among other subjects. “I’m trying to communicate them with the forms and the colors.”
Ms. Riveros, who has a bubbly personality, says the cheerful subject matter “expresses who I am,” though it belies the many years of her life that were filled with loneliness and rejection.
Ms. Riveros said she had no friends during her childhood in Bogotá, Colombia. She was born with tetra-Amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of limbs. At age 16, when the ridicule from fellow classmates became too much to bear, she dropped out of school. Because of her disability, she said, she felt ostracized even at her family’s church.
“I didn’t understand why everyone was treating me the way they did,” she said in Spanish. “In Colombia, I felt like a refugee lost in darkness, a person who only existed in her disability.”
Her only outlet was her art, she said, thanks to help from her older sister.
“I was like her little doll,” Ms. Riveros said of her sister. “She taught me how to grab a bottle with my feet, how to paint, and how to use my feet to fend for myself.”
In the early 1990s, her parents learned of a scholarship from the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World, an organization in Switzerland that supports disabled artists. At 7, Ms. Riveros applied for the scholarship by submitting two brightly colored paintings of clowns. She was accepted and offered a tutor and a monthly stipend of $400 for supplies. The next year, her work was shown at one of the association’s exhibitions, in Mexico City.
“When I began, I didn’t even know what art was,” she said. “But, thanks to the association, they helped me to discover that I am passionate about art.”
Over the years, Ms. Riveros grew more independent. She learned how to use her feet to bathe and dress herself, to wash her clothes, to open doors, and to embroider and sew clothing. When she was 12, she was offered the opportunity to receive prosthetic arms free of charge, but refused.
“I didn’t want them because I didn’t want to go against the word of God,” she said. “If he wanted me like this, it’s for a reason, so why should I try to change it?”
But even as she matured, she relied on her family, especially her sister, Andrea Rivero, and her brother, Jorge Samir Riveros, for many of her daily needs.
“In Colombia, I didn’t have a normal life,” she said. “I couldn’t go out and take a taxi or take public transportation. It was impossible because they don’t help you on public transport there. The only way I could survive was with the help of my family.”
One morning in 2008, her brother was fatally shot at a gas station; her family believes the killer was a gang member.
The shooting and the adversity Ms. Riveros faced in Colombia were factors in her decision to seek a better life in the United States. In 2010, she traveled to Miami, and then moved to New York, where she has lived off her stipend from the artists’ association, which was increased to $1,800.
Two years later, her sister back home disappeared.
“We still don’t know what happened to her, or if she was kidnapped — nothing,” Ms. Riveros said. After her sister vanished, she added, “I became totally shut in, swallowed in darkness and alone.”
Ms. Riveros filed an application for asylum in the United States in 2012. This past summer, it was approved. She was then referred to Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.
Her case worker, Mariana Duenas, encouraged her to hold an exhibition of her artwork. In September, the organization used $366 from the fund for painting supplies and canvases and helped arrange the exhibition, which opened this month and runs through Feb. 5 at the Robeson Gallery in Peekskill, about 50 miles north of Manhattan.
“Everyone was very touched by the colors and the figures, and no one could believe that I made them with my feet,” Ms. Riveros said after the show opened. “I feel very proud of myself.”
Her mother, Luz Miriam Ospina, traveled to New York before the exhibition, and as the day approached, Ms. Riveros worked seven days a week creating artwork. At her apartment in Sleepy Hollow, she cooked and cleaned for her mother, exhibiting an independence that Ms. Ospina said she had never seen before.
“This was not the same Linda who left my house,” Ms. Ospina said. “She was a different Linda. She was independent, strong, a fighter.”
Ms. Ospina said that her daughter’s relocation to the United States so soon after her son’s death “was the worst thing that could happen to me.”
“But I prayed to God,” she added, “and I asked that my daughter would be happy and that she would be somebody in life. And look at her now.”
Ms. Riveros said of her life in America: “Now I feel like a free bird, who can search for what she wants in her life, in her art, and who can express who she really is. I don’t feel disabled here.”
She still faces some challenges. A life spent contorting her body to use her feet has damaged her knees and spine, and she experiences back pain when she walks. She would like to buy a car, but she cannot afford the necessary modification.
But she does not see those challenges as insurmountable. As she stood in the gallery, she looked around at the walls filled with her work.
“The beautiful thing about this exhibition is that it shows that there are no limitations,” Ms. Riveros said. “Everything is possible. Limitations only exist in your head.”