ArtPrize entry ‘smashing stereotypes’ of disability


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One West Michigan artist was born without the ability to draw with her hands. As it turns out, a talent is a talent, it’s just a matter of finding a way to express it. 

Rynita Shepherd was born with a talent.

“Where some kids were in soccer and gymnastics, art was my extracurricular and it’s what I’ve done my whole life,” she said.

Shepherd was also born with a congenital condition known as Arthrogryposis. 

“It basically makes it so your arms and legs don’t have the same extension as average people,” she explained. “The range of motion is limited.”

That means she has limited use of her hands and feet. When she started drawing and taking art classes as a young child in Kalamazoo, teachers encouraged her to use her hands anyway.

“So, they used to strap pencils and pens to my hands or tape them to my hands and teach me to do it that way, but it was instinctive for me to just put it in my mouth when they weren’t looking because I have better grip in my mouth,” Shepherd said.

She kept using her mouth to draw, and she still does today,

“Anything two-dimensional that I can get my mouth on and do I’ve done,” she said.

Right now, she creates lifelike drawings of women who share her disability.

“To me, it’s probably as natural as you doing it with your hand,” Shepherd said.

She is submitting a piece for ArtPrize this year, called “Sexability: Smashing Stereotypes with Sex Appeal.”

“I feel like disability is often shown in the public as more of a clinical thing, and we’re also attractive people and I’m trying to show these people, their humanity and their beauty, because they are beautiful women just like any other woman,” Shepherd said.

To see her art in person, stop by Fountain Street Church starting next week.  

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