An Artist with “Momentum”

A recently opened show, on view in the S. Dillon Ripley Center, honors the work of young artists with disabilities

Soul Reader
"Soul Reader," an oil on canvas (36" by 28"), is on display in "Momentum," at the S. Dillon Ripley Center through January 22. Photo by Greg Staley

Dimelza Broche, a student at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, has been pursuing her passion for art since she was 13. She learned the basics of drawing from her brother and then studied painting at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, a magnet high school in Jacksonville that specializes in performing, visual and language arts. Now, the 21-year-old fine arts major is being recognized as the grand prize winner in a juried exhibition entitled “Momentum,” which opened this week at the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center.

A friend of Broche’s informed her about the national contest for emerging artists with disabilities. Broche has osteogenisis imperfecta, a genetic disorder causing extremely fragile bones. And, to the contest, she submitted Soul Reader, an oil-on-canvas self portrait that she painted over the course of a month in 2010.

Reoccurring themes in Broche’s work are time and people’s emotions, and both are central to Soul Reader. “To me, the circles in the background and the circles in the clothing represent the circle of life and how important it is to look at what we have and cherish it. In this fast moving society, people sometimes see, but they forget to look at what’s really important in life,” says Broche. “The circles in the background form a halo-like circle, which represents how important or sacred it should be to look and understand life around us and the people and things we interact with.”

Dimelza Broche, 21, is studying fine arts at the University of North Florida.
Dimelza Broche, 21, is studying fine arts at the University of North Florida. Photo courtesy of Dimelza Broche

Being in a wheelchair, says Broche, has stopped her from going some places, but it hasn’t stopped her from “traveling to the unexplored places in my subjects’ minds.” She adds: “The force that drives my artistic interest is the interesting people I have met during the years. Every face and every movement of their body says something about the person I’m painting. At the same time, those people show me something about themselves, which I translate into the canvas as something that is crucial or important in their lives. What I learn about my subjects’ lives is something that guides me and will guide me each day as I move towards my future.”

With the title of grand prize winner comes a $20,000 cash prize, which Broche plans to put towards her education. On winning, she says, “I feel like my art is being recognized in a different way. I think the jury selected my art not because it is ‘pretty’ or because they ‘liked it,’ as a lot of people usually comment, but because they found it interesting. It has a theme, and it shows painting techniques, which I have to keep improving.”

“Momentum” is co-sponsored by VSA Arts, an international nonprofit created to promote and showcase artists with disabilities, and Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. On view through January 22, 2012, the exhibition includes the works of 15 artists with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 25.

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