Words on Emily

from Tall in the Trap exhibition, Rotvoll Kunstnerkollektiv,
2021 by Brittany Nelson

“Tall in the Trap” features 10 new works on paper by American artist, Emily Sara. As a member and activist of the disability community, Sara’s work and research explores the pressures the social and physical world place on the disabled body. Using the language of graphics and drawings found in the American healthcare industry, advertising, and cartoons in popular culture, Sara creates acute critiques with playful narratives.

‘Tall in the Trap’ borrows its name from an iconic episode of the cartoon series Tom and Jerry from 1962. Set in the ‘Wild West’ of the United States, the cat character of Tom is hired to ‘trap’ the mouse character of Jerry by any means necessary, leading to multiple violent encounters with shotguns, explosives, and head injuries. Similarly in Sara’s work, various traps abound in her drawn world where the subjects are both bound and held together in a precarious balance with flimsy string and peeling tape. The work is hung at the average viewing height for a wheelchair user utilizing hand-cast pins resembling used bubblegum, creating an echo of the malleable flesh of the body retaining the scars and indentations of the violent medical procedures that attempt to compensate for an equally violent world.

Much like the narratives enacted by popular cartoon characters, Sara warps, breaks, and pieces together her subjects. The results are visuals that are both comforting in their familiarity and deeply unsettling in their context. Sara imagines a world of infinitely stretchable, unbreakable bodies that snap back into place with limitless do-overs and endless lives. In her new series of works on paper, Sara continues to offer us the un-openable door; perhaps leading us to a place where bodily harm may not exist, if only we could get to the other side.”


from Compression Socks exhibition, Anderson Gallery,
2019 by Stefanie Hessler

Entering the exhibition “Compression Socks” feel like stepping into the interior of a hospital room in a cartoon series. However, the characters are largely missing. Instead, we find ourselves surrounded by proxies for the sick body and its metabolism needs, and limitations.

In her largely autobiographical work, Emily Sara investigates the American healthcare system, expectations towards sick and disabled bodies, and the language of advertising with its depictions of perfectly abled physique and flawlessly photoshopped products.

In the exhibitions, objects are pulled and stretched in an attempt to make them fit—to make them seem “normal.” Enlarged reproductions of hearing aid battery stickers in the shape of a plus sign spiral along on the walls around the space. A thick blue line reminiscent of bottle labels from CVS pharmacies is held up by band aid stickers, apparently to keep sagging parts in shape. Three cartoon doors without handles and with knotted comic feet hanging out of windows also make the hospital room resemble a prison, a space that is difficult to leave.

Food is an important element in the show. Two groups of enlarged cast saltine crackers are installed on the walls of the gallery, each of them wearing a set of handcrafted earrings. Installed in assemblies of three, the crackers call to mind groups of girls. The earrings are modelled on jewelry readily available at stores like Claire’s, catering to young girls under pressure to look pretty. Lacking eyes, nose, or mouth, the sculptures foreground how disabled people are often infantilized.

Saltines are among the most common foods we eat when we’re sick. They can be a source of salt for people with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). And they are also the foods one is are required to eat and keep down before leaving the hospital—a gatekeeper of sorts. Food nourishes the body, but it can also be a marker of health: of what we can eat and digest, and if we can eat at all. Another work in the show is in the shape of an enlarged Dorito chip, a food craved by teenagers, and a source of salt for people with POTS. However, the Dorito’s shape is not the perfectly crisp triangle we know from advertisement and product packaging. It is misshaped, with its edges crumbled off. Chips are often associated with laziness, here indicating the negative connotations projected onto the “lazy” disabled body.

A bear-shaped painting on plexi-glass calls to mind seasonal window decorations at stores like Dunkin Donuts, and animation cels used in early cartoon productions. Cartoon characters are constantly beaten up, yet their bodies are never harmed. In “Compression Socks,” Emily Sara negotiates how sick and disabled bodies are shown, or excluded, from the imaginary, the infrastructures surrounding them, and the malleability and pressures of conforming to a certain standard.