Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age three, Mo’s early life included a “terrorizing” syringe and needle for life-sustaining insulin injections, a diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy making her legally blind in one eye at 22 (which fortunately was mostly reversed), and a self-described strange obsession with collecting insulin bottles for a giant bonfire when the cure for diabetes is discovered.
Though she’s still awaiting the cure, once Mo had gotten past the “you’re going to die at 35 point” by several years, she began to reconsider her disease and changed her perspective to one of gratitude. She became grateful for the healthy choices that the chronic illness forced her to make, which inspired her “Healing Avatar” series. The series includes seven avatars – or pieces of wearable art – that represent seven aspects of living with diabetes, and has given Mo an opportunity to reconsider, remake, and reuse: “In this work I reconsider this disease, and I celebrate the positive aspects it has brought to my life. I remake those old ideas into new beliefs. I really do believe I am better every day! And I’m reusing the objects that are important to me. These are important to me and they’re considered garbage and go into dumps. I’m able to reuse them in a positive way so that you are hopefully inspired to make your own art.”
Mo brought four of the Healing Avatars with her; three were modeled by students:
Teagan S. ’21 modeled the Needles Avatar, representing the medicine that helps keep Mo healthy. It was the first that Mo worked on and was the answer to the question, “What would the 36,795 needles that I’ve stuck in my body look like if they pointed outward?” Resembling Roman body armor, except designed for the feminine form, this piece is empowering to wear.
Teagan shared a little about her experience as a model for Mo, saying, "When Mo first came for runway practice, I was nervous and excited. Everyone was saying she used recycled material and honestly, I was expecting something completely different. However, I really do appreciate the unexpectedness because it was a fresh and new perspective on health. Wearing her piece, Needles, I felt like a warrior-goddess. Mo designed the needle-covered armor for the feminine form, rather than most female armor being remodeled male armor. It was very inspiring to hear her creative process and story, and I'm glad I have a behind-the-scenes experience with her and her work."
Marlow B. ’22 wore the Exercise
Avatar, representing the easiest and most efficient way to impact health, with even a few turns around Big Track resulting in a reduction in blood glucose level. The body is symbolized by the silk velveteen jumpsuit, which is protected by the cuirass made of bicycle tires. (See Marlow's report on Mo's visit in the Spirit of Creativity
The 800 dehydrated clementine orange peels of the Food Avatar, worn by Lilly R. ’22, demonstrate the difference that healthy food can make when dealing with a chronic disease like diabetes.
The fourth Healing Avatar, Wings, was displayed on a mannequin, and represents the choices that make the difference between surviving and thriving. The wings on display reused five years' worth of insulin bottles and needles, which brought a newer, albeit frightening, narrative to the fore. With the price of insulin increasing 500% over the last few years, the insulin from the bottles used in this piece would be worth about $28,000!
The other three Avatars: Perspective (you can be grumpy or grateful and it makes a difference in how you feel), Humor (laughing helps you feel better), and Freedom (the cure!) were not on display.
On Saturday, Mo held two workshops during the Arts Weekend in which the girls worked collaboratively to design and create a piece of wearable art of their own out of recycled materials, inspired by the nature of Foxcroft.
The Helen Cudahy Niblack ’42 Arts Lecture Series was established by Austi Brown ’73 in memory of her mother. Since it began in 2007, the series has brought a variety of literary, performing, and fine artists to Foxcroft to share their work, stories, and perspective on the nature of the creative process with both students and the larger community. One of the goals of the Niblack series is to provide an artist with the opportunity to share his artistic journey in a comfortable and familiar setting, creating space for an exchange of ideas that just might inspire a Foxcroft girl or two to chase her own artistic dreams.