Artist Hannah Chertock Spreads Disability Awareness
March 30, 2023 @ 12:00pm
Hannah Chertock’s art blends her lived experience with disability advocacy.
Hannah Chertock’s carefully stocked and color-organized workspace is where she creates her very own organ renditions, each one with meaning, pops of color and glitter. These pieces are the hallmark of her platform, Bodies Adapt, where she fuses creative expression and disability advocacy.
Chertock was born with Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia (SEDc), a genetic disorder that affects the collagen between a person’s bones. The condition causes chronic pain and short stature, and in extreme cases, can affect mobility. Though her case is not as severe as others’, Chertock still needed a C1-C2 neck fusion in middle school and a hip replacement when she graduated college in 2016.
“A lot of my experiences definitely inform my art,” she says.
Creating art has always been part of life for Chertock, who remembers taking sketchbooks with her to restaurants and regularly visiting craft stores. Her passion followed her throughout college, where she majored in photography at Virginia Commonwealth University. While there, she took a bookmaking class during her last semester that inspired the trajectory of her eventual brand.
“I founded Bodies Adapt right after graduating college and I was going into hip replacement surgery,” she says. “It was sort of the culmination of my thesis work, which was about bodies, but it was sculptural.”
Chertock described the 6-foot-tall works she’d make out of welding metal and plexiglass, using photographs to incorporate images. She said she felt the images were too flat to adequately convey the body, so she turned to her bookmaking experience and used paper to bring concepts to life.
“With bookmaking, I can make layers and depth and pull in different materials, too,” she describes. “It is also tangible. I liked the aspect of touching and holding a book.”
Chertock started sharing her artwork at shows shortly after graduating college. Hearing people express how’d they’d never seen work like hers before made her feel as though she found her niche. She also appreciated the openness with which others were inspired to talk about bodies.
“Interacting with people, the stories they would share about disability or their experience with the body – that is why I am making art,” she says. “It was awesome.”
The organs and body parts Chertock designs include the heart, brain, lungs, kidneys and even custom pieces from spine and arm X-rays people have sent her. The heart and brain were two of her original design ideas, which deeply resonated with her experience with SEDc.
“Mindfulness is big when you’re thinking of body awareness. In my journey of chronic pain and accepting my body, I feel like there’s been a lot of push and pull with the heart and the brain,” she reflects.
Chertock also isn’t afraid of taking her designs to the microscopic level. She says creating cells is her favorite.
“I just like the abstractness of it, and it’s just a meditative thing to make. When I was doing it by hand, there was no rubric. I was just free-handing it. It reminds me of when I doodled in high school and middle school.”
With some variations depending on the item or size, the full creative process takes Chertock around six hours to complete. This includes the design, cutting and layering of sheets, one at a time, with dividers.
Chertock currently sells her artwork at Femme Fatale in D.C., It’s Neighbor-Made in Savage, Maryland and The Little Gay Shop in Austin, Texas. She also does regular outreach to get her brand out, keeping in mind her dream of expanding Bodies Adapt into a broader movement promoting self-love and body empowerment.
“I think Bodies Adapt getting there,” she says. “But I would like to bring in other illustrators or artists that do other forms of work that talk about the body. I could see it being something bigger.”
For more information on Bodies Adapt, visit bodiesadapt.com or find the project on Instagram @bodiesadapt.
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