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“SOME PEOPLE” (Every)Body Exhibition: A Conversation With Kimberly J. Soenen

“SOME PEOPLE” (Every)Body Exhibition: A Conversation With Kimberly J. Soenen

The Embrace
Mom and Dad. Photo by Nancy Borowick.

Chicagoan Kimberly J. Soenen is the creative director and curator of the upcoming exhibition “SOME PEOPLE” (Every)Body, which opens on Oct. 18 and runs through Nov. 15 in the Third Floor Gallery at the Bridgeport Art Center in Chicago.

I had the pleasure of working on the exhibition program as a copyeditor, and the photographs, art, and essays included in the project astounded me with their vulnerability, power, and beauty.

When we talk about the United States healthcare system, we’re likely to think first of our personal experiences: health insurance woes, hospital visits, cancer treatment, the loss of loved ones. But what do the words “health” and “healthcare” really mean in this country?

Soenen sought out the words, art, and photography from a range of professional artists and journalists to explain what health means and what the current healthcare climate looks like for the individual, families, parents, children, siblings, and friends.

We corresponded over email about these topics and about what the exhibition aims to create, share, and communicate.

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La Corriente Que Nos Une. Photo by Rubén Salgado Escudero.

Meredith Boe

First, what’s behind your desire to collect different understandings of the word “health” and how people perceive healthcare? Have you found they vary greatly from person to person?

Kimberly J. Soenen

Before the United States can have an intelligent debate about healthcare policy, Americans need to define health.

Until 2019, it’s been difficult to have an intelligent, civil debate about healthcare policy in the United States because Americans have drastically varied concepts of “health” and “Public Health.”

Sophia. Photo by Alyssa Schukar.

Some view “health” as the health of the individual, self and family only — meaning free from illness or injury. Others, view “health” as the collective health of society or economic dignity for all. Public Health in the medical and scientific fields measure Public Health by the top causes of death. In the U.S. the top causes of death are heart disease, cancer, injuries, chronic respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, flu, kidney disease and suicide.

We have a society where an unusual number of people die violently in comparison to other well-resourced aspiring capitalist democracies. The recent rise in accidental deaths, homicides and suicides among young people across the United States is more than concerning. The leading causes of death among our young people ages 15 to 19 are injuries, followed by suicide and homicide. Parents, business owners and citizens have reached a tipping point.

Body. Photo by Paul Gilmore.

Meredith Boe

Can you talk about how your own experiences with the healthcare system have inspired some of the themes the show explores?

Kimberly J. Soenen

Between 2014 and 2017, three major hospitals in Chicago dropped my health insurance plan without warning. I was forced to move my healthcare four times in four years. The Denial of Care business model architected by the private health insurance industry is not sustainable. It imposes harm and disruption both to individuals and society. My motivations, and the reason this group has coalesced, are much wider, however. We are examining the individuals that propel systems that impose harm, but we are also examining what is to be fully human — fully fragile.

Austin Boxing Club. Photo by Doug McGoldrick.

Meredith Boe

Lots is happening in Chicago, the state, and the country at this moment. Has there been any one topic or occurrence that inspired you to curate this kind of exhibition?

Kimberly J. Soenen

Well, I think it starts with wanting to end violence and trauma in our streets but also address the trauma and harm Board Room Violence and detached shareholders impose. It’s invisible.

United States Army Sergeant Chris Kurtz at home, December 2018. Photo by Erica Brechtelsbauer.

That said, it’s an exciting time in Chicago and around the world. Citizenry and business leaders are converging to prioritize healthcare as a cornerstone of Public Safety and economic strength. They are not only defining health but they are now pushing to make it both a social and fiscal priority.

Locally, Chicago is home to countless professional medical associations that include the American Medical Association (AMA), Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) and a strong coalition of grass roots organizations advocating for tax-financed universal healthcare (HR 1384). We also have numerous world class teaching hospitals and medical schools here. Senator Dick Durbin last year announced his CHICAGO HEAL Initiative and CommunityHealth launched its ALL IN campaign a few years ago, which convenes stakeholders and shareholders in an ongoing dialogue about the economic benefits of making accessible healthcare a fiscal priority. Blue Cross Blue Shield and Health Care Services Corporation (HCSC) are both headquartered here, both companies that are incessantly being legally challenged and held accountable for their unethical and often times illegal –– and harmful –– business practices.

Lower Wacker Drive below Michigan Avenue. Photo by Michael Zajakowski.

The good news? In recent weeks, 150 CEOs signed on to endorsing Common Sense Gun Laws in the United States; 181 Business Roundtable CEOs signed on to prioritizing stakeholders rather than shareholders; 7,000 nurses walked out in an organized strike in four U.S. states; General Motors (GM) terminated the health insurance of its striking workers who are largely striking over unaffordable health insurance costs; and the world witnessed the largest global outcry for environmental health. In addition, surgeons, physicians and nurses have never been more public, or vocal, about what they are witnessing in their ORs, ERs and hospital rooms.

What does this say to us about health?

Meredith Boe

Lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic have been big news lately — Oklahoma state suing Johnson & Johnson regarding inappropriate marketing of opioids, and more recently the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, who is now filing for bankruptcy. Do you see a shift happening here?

Kimberly J. Soenen

The U.S. Department of Justice report released this month on this issue provides evidence of criminal intent by the individuals working within these companies, but it now appears the persons working within those systems will skirt indictment, conviction and incarceration unless one of the Attorneys General pressing for trial succeeds in their effort to hold those people accountable for their white collar crimes.

Aging in America: The Years Ahead
Jesus is Lord. Photo by Ed Kashi / VII.

Meredith Boe

This show has high-profile photojournalists and artists involved, from National Geographic, The New York Times, and some high-performing artists from Chicago. Can you talk a little bit about how Chicago has become a place of intersection, not just regards to healthcare but in regards to policy making and the arts?

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Kimberly J. Soenen

I think people are fatigued by statistics and data. High quality photojournalism, art and well composed essays have the power to make a social impact in a way statistics and policy analysis cannot. The curators at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Gage Gallery at Roosevelt University, DePaul Art Museum, The Rebuild Foundation and other stellar visual arts institutions in Chicago do not shy away from creating solutions-oriented public debate spaces that encourage discussion about sensitive issues. I’ve been extremely inspired by their high curatorial bar, exceptional programming and commitment to outreach. Civic engagement is ignited by emotion…photography, art and essays reach people viscerally. Emotion comes first, the law follows.

Mr. Jake Johnson, March 29,2019, Washington, DC. Photo by Robert Miller.

Meredith Boe 

Chicago is well-known for its violence on a global scale. Yet, as you mentioned, we have so many public health systems here. Do you think these are two aspects of the city that should be related? Are they?

Kimberly J. Soenen

There exists a major vacuum for violence in Chicago –– and anywhere in the world where lack of education, opportunity and healthcare boil to create the cocktail that becomes violence.

Violence is a way of thinking. To me, it’s not about the weapon of choice, it’s about philosophy of thought and intention. We see the number of persons murdered hourly in Chicago. But we must also at once direct our attention to Board Room Violence. What are the systems and who are the persons working within those systems that erect intentional barriers to health and knowingly perpetuate harm? What are the industries and economies of scale that architect harm and disparity? After all, people propel systems and industries.

I think the citizenry / business owner convergence related to Public Health is occurring in a positive unprecedented way because we are now asking that question of ourselves, our elected officials and our business owners: Am I responsible? Am I accountable? What role do I play personally or professionally in creating disparity or imposing harm to Public Health? What am I doing as a shareholder, an employee, a business owner, a parent to leverage human potential? This is the question of our time.

Wendy in Treatment. Photo by Jean-Marc Giboux.

Meredith Boe

Do you think the artists in the show, or artists in general, have unique vantage points on these issues that could make big impacts?

Kimberly J. Soenen

Our extraordinary group of photojournalists, artists, medical students and physicians represent a wide array of perspectives, ages and life experience — from a 19-year-old photographer to a 90-year-old physician.

This exhibition is multifaceted with sculpture, painting, illustrations, writing, photographs, art installations and multimedia. We leave it to each viewer/reader to respond to the work in their own way. But of one thing we are certain: Chance, circumstance and luck impact every body. It only takes a split second for a life to be changed in perpetuity by illness, injury or disability. Not only does every body need health maintenance from prenatal healthcare to End of Life, prioritizing healthcare will also strengthen the economy. It’s my hope that we one day consider healthcare a social, ethical, economic and cultural value to which we assign fiscal priority.

MR, Finn Weafer, release on file.
Finn Swimming. Photo by Heather Perry.

“SOME PEOPLE” (Every)Body runs at Bridgeport Art Center in Chicago October 18-November 15, 2019.
On Instagram @SomePeopleEveryBody

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