Student displays art exhibit portraying internal diseases

Stephanie Jessie

A WKU sculptor has created an exhibit that focuses on unveiling hidden physical pain.

“At Least You Have Your Health” opens in the Cube Gallery on the fourth floor of the Fine Arts Center Friday and is, as WKU art student Sarah Sperry put it, “possibly the biggest thing I’ve ever tried to do.”

When local photographer and long-time friend Sarah Ann Hooper approached Sperry, a senior, with the idea, the two immediately went to action on gathering models and planning the shoots.

The idea behind the exhibit came to Hooper after going through what she called the “most difficult year of her life.” 

After leaving a degree that she wasn’t happy with and pursuing photography, she started formulating a way to educate others on the internal diseases she was fighting. Hooper has Crohn’s disease and chronic pain.

“I was putting a lot of work into it and doing a lot of studying and started thinking about how my conditions affect me and how I wish the people in my life could understand that I was really dedicated to something and serious,” she said.

Hooper and Sperry began gathering models that suffer from a chronic condition or illness that’s mostly pain-related. While describing what the pain feels like, local artists painted what they heard onto the female models.

“We’re working off the idea of communicating the unseen,” Sperry said. 

The exhibit gives the models a chance to show the world what they go through on a daily basis, even though one couldn’t tell by looking at them.

“We had some people come in and they were kind of uncertain about it,” she said. “They were kind of like ‘you know, this is really weird for me because I’ve spent so many years of my life pretending that this doesn’t exist.’ And we’ve been kind of like ‘that kinda makes you even more badass than you already are.’”

Conditions that are covered in the exhibit include Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

The duo raised money for the exhibit by crowdsourcing and receiving donations anonymously, many coming from individuals Hooper and Sperry never met.

“We were absolutely blown away by the amount of support we’ve gotten from just strangers and people sharing stuff on the Internet,” she said.

While this is an exhibit opportunity for Sperry, this is a way of coping for Hooper, who said her previous attempts of hiding her problems or pretending as if they didn’t exist didn’t work out. Hooper views this exhibit as one that will allow people she knows and complete strangers see what “makes us who we are.”

“I’m not trying to put it ahead of any terminal illness or condition or saying that what we go through is necessarily worse than what anyone else has to deal with but rather that, having these chronic conditions that aren’t curable, that are treatable but not curable, that we’ll always live with and always deal with,” she said.

The show opens Friday at 7 p.m. and runs through Nov. 11.