When art, queerness, and chronic illness intersect: An interview with Bri Noonan

Bri Noonan noticed a gap in research, specifically on people who were queer, were making art, and were also chronically ill. As a person who lives in the intersection of all three, Bri (whose pronouns are she/they) is leading a research project that seeks to answer the questions “What does being a creative queer chronically ill person mean? How do chronically ill LGBTQ+ identities among other intersections inform art practices?”

This project falls right in line with Bri’s personal experience, interests, and expertise. Bri is a photographer and artist and currently pursuing an MA in Social and Cultural Pedagogy at ASU. They have been diagnosed with stage III endometriosis, fibromyalgia, and hypocholesterolemia. Bri is one of the four co-founders of Femme Fotale, a photographic book/zine to empower women, femme-identifying, and GNC individuals and help push them to the forefront of the photographic world. 

Devin Pope for TRR (TRR): We’re here to talk about the exciting new project you’re leading about the intersection of art + queerness + chronic illness. How did this project come about?

Bri Noonan (BN): This project came about because I was noticing how much chronically ill queer people are using art on social media platforms to both explore their queer identity and chronically ill identity as well as making art outside of those identities as a form of exploration of self. Also, when digging into the research at school, I realized I could pull quite a bit about the intersections of queerness and chronic illness/disability or the intersections of queerness and art-making but often the research didn’t overlap all three areas. This seems like an area in which there should be more work done in order to showcase how important art-making is to both these identities and beyond. 

TRR: Can you tell us about your hopes and dreams for the project?

BN: My hopes and dreams are that it will highlight how much creativity, hope, beauty, strength, and value there is to making art while being queer and chronically ill. I hope it will also highlight the vast variety of art-making and what that can look like for different people. There’s often a hierarchy within the art world about what is considered art and who has access to art, which needs to be deconstructed because art is for everyone and can benefit everyone.

TRR: What led you to take on this project?

BN: I decided to take on this project for my applied project for my master’s program at ASU through the Social and Cultural Pedagogy MA. This program allows space for students to really go after what they’re interested in studying. When I applied to the program, I actually already had this idea in mind in a loose form. While working with my chair and taking classes, I was able to really hone in on what I was capable of doing for my program while sticking to the topics I am really passionate about. 

TRR: Can you tell us more about your art practice and projects?

BN: I am a visual artist. Specifically, I enjoy photography, book/zine-making, and doodling. I like working with a polaroid because it’s accessible in terms of weight but still allows me to use film as my working method. I personally love making art about my personal narrative so about my queer family, extended family, friends, community, and what life is like as a chronically ill queer person. My art is a form of visual storytelling that I hope can help build some bridges and invite people into our little world.

BN (cont.): Often, I think art is taught to be cryptic or have a hidden message but I am not looking to do that. I want it to be an accessible story that draws others in. Also, my wife and I love to make art together, so we have made books together in the past or contributed to each other’s personal projects. We are currently making a book together called “Fucking Around: sex, intimacy, care” that is a look at chronic illness, queerness, and how sex, intimacy, and care are important topics to be looked at. 

TRR: As a queer and chronically ill person, how does art impact your life? 

BN: Art impacts my life every day. Whether it’s the art we have hanging in our homes that bring about certain memories and feelings, or making art by myself or with Joy, or talking about art with friends/family/community. It just feels always present and important. It helps me feel calm while also working out deep grief and complex feelings surrounding my own chronic illness. 

TRR: What do you think is a common misconception/point of confusion on the intersection of art + queerness + chronic illness?

BN: I think people assume that art at this intersection has to be heavy and difficult to view/relate to/understand. In reality, art in this area is all of the feelings. It can be heavy but it’s also beautiful, uplifting, and an important narrative. The work I make is not only heavy and my life is not only heavy. In fact, it’s really beautiful even if sometimes my body doesn’t allow me to do what an able-bodied person may have access to. It’s a whole new type of intimacy when on the same day you can go from almost passing out in the hallway with your partner helping you get to the couch safely to then making pumpkin scones gently in the kitchen. 

TRR: What encouragement can you give to queer and chronically ill folks who want to make art a bigger part of their lives?

BN: Anyone and everyone can make art. Something I try to remind myself is there are no rules for art and if we can let go and just enjoy creating it’s the purest sense of joy. It’s like how it feels to be a kid before the world tries to stomp out the creativity. Everyone deserves that joy and space to make something that feels good to them. 

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Devin Pope is an editor/writer for TRR.