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Flint, MI—After 20 minutes of painting, Cheyenne Foreman’s hands ache. After an hour, she’s in unbearable pain. But she paints on, sometimes for eight or ten hours at a time.
Foreman, a Flint artist and recent Mott Community College graduate, suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder that causes her to have overly flexible joints and stretchy, fragile skin.
Along with her physical disabilities, doctors have diagnosed her Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Anxiety.
Despite these challenges, Foreman’s self-portrait entitled “Get These Birds’ Nests Out of Me,” has received statewide and national recognition.
The oil painting depicts her battle with her physical and mental health through a moment when decided shave her head. At the time, she was also mourning the loss of a family member and grieving other losses due to the pandemic.
“Shaving my head has always been a way to take back the power, and a way to explore identity and my sexuality and my gender and all sorts of other things,” Foreman said.
Her piece won a first-place award in the 2021 Liberal Arts Network for Development statewide competition. It was also featured in the national art exhibition Art in Isolation, a virtual exhibition curated by artist HC Huỳnh for The Art School Pedagogy 2.0 Zoomposium.
It began as a class project when she was a student at MCC.
“The assignment was to document a change or the passage of time. And I wanted to take an active role in that change,” Foreman said.
Her partner helped set up a photoshoot. They placed a red tee-shirt over a lamp so Foreman could work with “soft, gentle” hues.
“I intentionally, most people won’t notice it, but I included my hyper-mobile fingers. I didn’t hold the clipper in the ‘correct’ way,” she said.
Due to her physical and mental health, everyday activities cause her significant strain.
“My mental health is bad. Simple tasks, like cooking myself food, I generally cannot do… I’m always worried about dislocating joints or injuring joints,” she said.
Luckily, she has supportive partners who help take her to and from her many doctors’ appointments.
“I have two partners and they’ve both been really fantastic, and their surrounding system of friends and partners have been really wonderful.”
Art serves as her spiritual and emotional release from it all.
“I’ve been doing art for as long as I can remember. When I was young, my mom went through graphic design classes at Mott and so I got to see the magic of the new art supplies and watching her learn to do realism and hyperrealism for her class….That was the amazing thing to me,” Foreman said.
Tim Krantz, an art professor at MCC whom Foreman credits as the reason she’s improved as an artist, said art gives people purpose, no matter the state of their mental health.
“I feel like it’s no different than how art affects any other artist or at least potentially can affect other artists. However, I think in some cases, it can serve a stronger and deeper purpose for some….It can give them a way to express, educate, or communicate their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They can use their art to communicate about their own personal experiences and struggles as well as to communicate about mental health issues on a larger scale, from a non-personal standpoint,” Krantz said.
Now that Foreman has graduated, an accomplishment that took 10 years, she said she’s unsure about her future.
Her disabilities keep her from working, and she relies on Social Security Disability Insurance for income. Selling her art would cause her to lose benefits and put her over the income threshold.
“If I sold one painting for the amount that it’s worth, I would be over budget because my paintings sell for $500. So, my options are completely undervalue my work and sell it, or don’t sell it and hang on to it,” Foreman said.
She adds that the system “pigeonholes” those with disabilities by limiting their opportunities to work where they can.
But Kranz said he believes Foreman will go far.
“She is a very skilled draftsman and has an amazing amount of focus when she’s really on task. She is driven to do the absolute best that she can, no matter what the assignment is. Although she is quite the perfectionist, she is also far more of a creative thinker and far more willing to take risks than she gives herself credit for. She has the ability to be able to create anything she wants to as long as she has the courage,” he said.