Healthcare spaces can often seem cold, sterile, and unwelcoming — white walls decorated as an afterthought with graying, sun-bleached prints of pastoral landscapes and floral bouquets, outdated furniture screaming to be reupholstered, linoleum flooring as far as the eye can see. CHOICES has a grander vision of what a clinic space should look like. The comfort of our patients is our top priority. We want the people we care for to walk into our office and feel warm, welcome, inspired, and empowered. When envisioning the design for our new clinic in Carbondale, Illinois, we knew we had to raise the bar.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the two talented artists in charge of painting our Carbondale clinic’s colorful and iconic mural. Missisippi Sands and A.B. Art are queer, feminist, non-binary Carbondale artists who work in many forms. Together, they designed a bright, bold, abstract mural following a few guiding principles inspired by their collective experiences in Carbondale, and worked collaboratively to bring to life a piece ripe with meaning, rich in symbolism, and imbued with power and intention.
“When we started, we were like, ‘Oh, wow. We talk about art all the time, but we’ve never actually collaborated! How is this going to work?’ A.B. works digitally & I work on paper,” Mississippi shared with a laugh.
They began as most artists do, with color, shape, and theory.
The mural incorporates colors from the Progress Pride Flag. “It was important to use the colors of the Progress Flag, because it recognizes how trans people and people of color have a unique experience within the LGBTIQ+ community,” A.B. said. “We wanted to make sure that was acknowledged and centered.”
The duo chose arches and circles as their primary design elements. Historically, circles represent equality, community, and connection. The intersecting shapes and forms come together to connect and uplift. “We incorporated LOTS of rainbows,” A.B. said, gesturing towards the mural’s many arches. Both artists are outspoken members of the LGBTIQ+ community, and impressed upon us how important it was to represent the intersectionality of queer identities in their mural. “One thing that stands out to me about CHOICES is that they plan to offer gender-affirming care. People are excited about that! It’s much needed around here!” Mississippi added, citing this as a one of the many reasons they were excited to accept this project.
One of the most beautiful and poignant details of the mural is one most people will never see. “We invited CHOICES staff and leadership to write their affirmations underneath the painting,” A.B. explained. “Energy is something that transforms a space. Having those intentions and affirmations literally written on the walls matters.”
We asked the artists if they ever imagined seeing their work in a healthcare facility. “I never thought a medical facility is where my art would sing. I just never considered that! But as soon as I heard about the project, I was 100% in, because I feel like access to inclusive reproductive healthcare is so important. So, no, we never planned on it, but we were down for the cause!“ A.B. exclaimed. Mississippi agreed, adding, “Hospitals can be so cringey. I just want to smudge all the white walls! So, no, I personally never saw myself painting in a clinic. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. Some of the most important people in my life are healers. The cause is very important to me.”
Referencing the fall of Roe v. Wade, Mississippi, whose master’s thesis is about abortion, continued, “Before it actually happened, I saw it on the horizon. I knew it was even more important to talk about abortion now, in this moment. I thought, ‘Why don’t we tell our stories?’ If we don’t tell our stories, they’ll be treated like taboo. But how do we tell these stories? How do we start talking about it?” Their thesis work centers individuals who have received abortions, elevating them and honoring and mythologizing their bodies in ways similar to how the bodies of pregnant people are honored and mythologized. “Let’s focus on these people’s lives, and celebrate that they were able to decide what their future will look like.”
About the Artists:
Mississippi Sands (they/them) is a Minnesota native and who has been exploring a broad range of media since they were old enough to steal their mother’s scissors. Their research and artistic development has included 2D and graphic design, but has more recently focused largely on 3Dimensional art. In addition to their artistic journey, their background in construction, welding, and metal fabrication lends to their knowledge and experience with a range of processes and materials. They are currently an MFA candidate at SIU Carbondale with a focus on Metals. Mississippi’s work spans several media including: metal work, stencil-style street art, painting, ceramics, music, fibers and more. Much of their work features bright colors, symbolism, and figures that connect the personal to the political and the local to the global. Mississippi is a mother and a person who has had an abortion. Their thesis work in progress is focused on the issue of reproductive justice and uses sculpture to celebrate a person’s right to make their own healthcare choices according to their own needs.
A.B. Art (they/them) born in Los Angeles, CA with art supplies in both hands. Their mother is a glass artist, their grandmother a painter, their father and grandfather are printers, and they taught them the fundamentals of her artistic practice and to never fear new materials. Since they were a small child, they were obsessed with drawing cartoons, they have signed artwork with the moniker A.B. which is now their legal name. A “Jill of all Trades”, they uses collage, installation, live performance, graphic design, poetry, photography, and anything else they can get their hands on. A.B.’s goal is to try to make performance/art that makes that world a little better, safer for people who are different, and hopefully a bit more creative. Currently, A.B. is an award-winning Ph.D. Candidate in performance studies at SIUC, writing a dissertation on the aesthetic possibilities of performative writing.