Hannah Michelle Bussa
Artie Mack was born on the deaf spectrum and has lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, their entire life.
“I use ‘deaf’ and ‘hard of hearing’ interchangeably because I often struggle with the overlap between deaf and hearing while experiencing a sort of ‘third’ identity that exists in between.” he says.
Mack says they feel it is important to do away with social hierarchies and barriers between people who identify as “Deaf” and “deaf”—a distinction some people in the deaf community make that signifies their connection to Deaf culture—and “hard of hearing,” which is often depicted as “more abled” than Deaf or deaf.
“Many of our needs and experiences overlap, and everyone benefits from learning ASL and understanding deafness as a range or spectrum as opposed to the outdated, binary model of ‘profoundly deaf—hard of hearing—hearing,’” they say.
Mack has been interested in creating art since he could use his hands. They started with doodling and pencil drawing, creating comics as a child and eventually branching out to various mediums like food, acrylics, craft, ink, colored pencils and dancing.
“I minored in Art while I was at university but have only recently begun to envision making a career out of it,” he says.
Their show, “U Can’t Tell Me Nothing Just By Lookin’: An Artie Mack Experience,” premiered at South of Lincoln Downtown on Aug. 13 and was on display until Sept. 10.
The Artie Mack Experience centered accessibility, providing image descriptions, a ramp and clear masks.
“Fortunately, we already had the ramp at South of Downtown and I wanted to be sure people in the community knew this,” Mack says. “I also advocated for clear masks because I personally am struggling during this pandemic with facial barriers that make it harder to hear voices and impossible to read lips and facial expressions. Since this is my reality, clear masks were always a priority. I also wanted to be considerate of family members and people in the community and to raise awareness just through visibility and option.”
One of Mack’s goals is to dismantle monoculture. That was part of the inspiration for The Artie Mack Experience.
“Not only did the show feature my artwork, there was homecooked food and propagated plants that’d been repotted for viewers to take home,” Mack says. “I think it’s important that experiences overlap so people are constantly thinking of intersectionality.”
They say the movement in the space, going from viewing to reading, eating, touching and thinking provided a multidimensional experience.
“It’s a constant reminder that life is never just one thing, just as people are never just one thing,” they say. “Monoculture constantly works to get us comfortable with homogeneity. It’s imperative not to.”
Mack is Black, deaf/hard of hearing and queer in the Midwest. He says this is not an easy life.
“My skin color makes me a target and my deafness, at times, has me vulnerable whether I don’t hear something or someone doesn’t understand not to treat me like a hearing person,” they say.
“We already know the world has its issues with homosexuality and gender fluidity and I won’t pretend to come from a totally open-minded family.”
Mack says the most difficult part of this is having to fashion their own understanding of what it means to live at these intersections and what it means to be himself.
“I struggle all the time with confidence,” Mack says. “My art and my writing is a reflection of what I want to see in the world or how I recreate the stories around me to fit my reality and actions as a Black/queer/deaf person.”
This was part of their inspiration for their “U Can’t Tell Me Nothing Just By Lookin” show.
“‘You can’t tell just by looking’ when it comes to a person’s sexuality, religious beliefs or gender expression,” Mack says.
Mack says they think it is imperative that Disability Justice is at the frontlines of the civil rights movement going on in the world today.
“Ableism is capitalist driven, and we live in a capitalist society that glorifies able-bodiedness along with white supremacy and patriarchy,” he says. “Disability Justice invites people to really examine intersections of race, disability, sex and so forth – getting people acquainted with the idea of ‘body-minds’ and how they each function according to their biology.”
Mack says they feel that the stigma around disability often makes it get left out of the conversation, which means people aren’t allowing a full experience or understanding of the fight for “equal rights.”
“Disability is the largest ‘minority’ group on the planet, and the range of which humans experience disability or illness, be they temporary or permanent, is so vast I can’t believe we’re this far behind when it comes to accessibility and awareness,” they say.
Mack says with his own experience, people can’t tell he hears differently until they interact with him and pick up on his accent or when he needs something clarified.
“Real change and communication comes from interaction and getting outside of your comfort zone,” Mack says. “It requires humility and constantly reminding oneself that not everyone shares the same experiences. I hope that when people look at my portraits or comic drawings that they attribute the same line of thinking.”
Kat Wiese, Community Arts Organizer, works for the South of Downtown Community Development Organization (SDCDO), a nonprofit focused on improving quality of life through affordable housing advocacy, workforce development, economic opportunity, and community building.
Wiese met Mack over a year ago when Mack began working at Juju’s Vegan, which shares space with SDCDO within the South of Downtown Art Hub.
She got familiar with Mack’s work when he made ASL BLM shirts during last summer’s protests in Lincoln. In February, she invited Mack to participate in a Black History Black Futures coloring book project.
Wiese helped Mack put together this show.
“I have curated a few dozen shows in the past six years and worked with even more artists and Artie was exceptionally well prepared, beyond that he had a clear sense from the beginning of creating an experience that was both sensational and inclusive,” Wiese says.
Wiese was impressed with Mack’s show. She says Mack made fresh vegan food himself for the show.
“There was music, a puppy, little kids playing with bubbles: it felt like if a beautiful art show and a block party made a baby,” she says. “I am really proud to have worked with Artie and supported him in his first solo show. This is only the beginning for both his artistic practice and his career as a creative person.”
Wiese says the accessibility of the show was important as well.
“I want accessibility to be second nature,” she says. “It should not be special for all people to be welcomed and considered in a space. We are all still learning about what accessibility means and Artie has taught me a lot about that.”
Wiese says SDCDO is committed to continuing to work with artists to provide accessible experiences, and they hope other nonprofits, galleries and businesses will do the same.
“I think accessibility requires intention and it can make activities that might otherwise be immediate take a few extra minutes of your time: and it is not much to give up when you think about the number of individuals who navigate our physical and digital world being completely unconsidered,” she says.
Wiese says Mack is both an artist and an activist, which is evident in his artwork and the way he holds space, both in real life and online.
“I am so excited that Artie was just brought on at the LUX Center for the Arts as their first Creative in Community, a neighborhood-based residency program,” she says. “Creatives in Community is a program co-hosted by South of Downtown CDO and LUX Center for the arts aimed at empowering Lincoln’s placemakers through educational opportunities, mini grants, and the residency.”
She says Mack has proposed organizing ASL accessibility workshops and generating art for public spaces that make disabled folks visible.
“I am so excited to see where Artie’s work takes him next and how it transforms our city’s physical and social landscape,” she says.