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Artwork sends a powerful message about living with a hidden disability

A student has created a series of art pieces to increase awareness and reduce stigma around hidden disabilities.

NTU student Chloe Burns sits in front of her 'You don't look sick' artwork

Chloe Burns, 22, says that prior to her diagnosis doctors and others around her did not believe that there was anything wrong with her.

“At one point I was passing out up to five times a day and I was constantly in and out of hospital, however I was struggling to get heard and specialists and others around me were doubting the awful symptoms I was experiencing,” said Chloe, from Ipswich town centre, who is studying BA Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University.

“My experience led me to create a series of artworks that would challenge perceptions and increase awareness around hidden disabilities.”

After a long and difficult time seeing doctors and specialists, Chloe was diagnosed with multiple conditions including Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, which is often referred to as PoTS.

PoTS is an abnormal increase in heart rate that can occur after standing or sitting. Symptoms include fainting and dizziness and, due to the condition, Chloe experienced passing out on many occasions.

Before her experiences with PoTS, Chloe was an avid dancer and dance teacher and this informed her early art practice. She would dance across paint on canvas but as her condition worsened she was forced to change her practice.  

As part of her final year work, Chloe created “You don’t look sick” from 48 pieces of paper which were taken from copies of her medical notes and appointment information. These acted as the canvas on which she would paint the name of the piece in capital letters in bold, black ink.

The artwork went viral on Facebook, receiving more than 2,000 shares and thousands of comments, as well as being shared on the Grayson Perry art page.

Chloe did not realise the community for hidden disabilities was as big as it was and received hundreds of messages of support in response to her artwork.

She went on to create a further piece of art titled “Is it just in my head” in the same style as her previous piece, but this time words were painted on top of a canvas of her electrocardiogram (ECG) scans.

Her second piece was inspired by the experience of others doubting what she was feeling and going through, which in turn led her to doubt herself and her illness journey too.

Chloe's 'Is it still just in my head' artwork which is based on the doubt others cast on her experiences with her disability

Chloe, of the Nottingham School of Art & Design, said: ”I hope that my work helps people to understand more about hidden disabilities and the struggles of those who have them. I want the art to make people think before they make snap judgements and to challenge the negative attitudes there are around disabilities that might not be immediately apparent.”

Visual Arts Senior Lecturer Lisa Selby, of the Nottingham School of Art & Design,  said: "Chloe has demonstrated how to document her experiences and challenges while channelling them through a creative, research-based process. Her art practice has not only challenged perceptions around hidden disabilities, it has also resonated strongly with people who live with disabilities, just like Chloe.”

  • Notes for editors

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    NTU was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards). It was the University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with over 33,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 4,000 and an NTU community representing around 160 countries.

    In the past 15 years, NTU has invested £450 million in tools, technology and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2019 UCAS UG acceptance data) It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    75% of NTU students go on to graduate-level employment or graduate-entry education / training within fifteen months of graduating (Guardian University Guide 2021).

    NTU is 4th globally (and 3rd in the UK) for sustainability in the 2021 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Artwork sends a powerful message about living with a hidden disability

Published on 14 June 2022
  • Category: Press office

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