Painting People as They See Themselves

Portrait of Juan, 5 x 7 by David Borden

Imagine a wall of paintings—a hundred or more of all kinds of people. At first glance, it’s just a sea of people. Upon closer inspection, some people have visible disabilities– some people have invisible disabilities or no disability at all. These portraits dare society to change its perceptions of disability and beauty. They overturn the tradition in Western Art of exploiting persons with disabilities for cheap, emotional effect.

As viewers interact with each portrait, they may feel uncomfortable- confronted by their own emotions and prejudices about the human body. Who has a disability?  Who doesn’t? The portraits aim to lead the viewer to the conclusion: Does it really matter? People are people, disability does not define us, and it’s simply one aspect in our complex lives as human beings.

portrait of Tanya, a young woman holding her arms up to show her muscles.
Portrait of Tanya, 7 x 5 by David Borden,

“When you walk through an art museum, the subjects are overwhelmingly gods, nobles, or heroes. Occasionally, you will find a person with a disability, but when you do, they are generally depicted as freaks, scary warnings, or objects of pity,” says awarding winning Austin artist, David Borden, “and that’s wrong.”

“The Beggars” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Borden has set out on a journey to create generous, vibrant portraits that challenge viewers’ preconceptions of their subjects and allow people with disabilities to be seen on their own terms. “I’ve had this idea for a very long time. My oldest daughter had significant, multiple disabilities and used to paint her. She was beautiful and made a wonderful subject. She passed away a few weeks shy of her 16th birthday. I’m so glad I have those paintings because they capture so much more than a photograph ever could.”

Accessible Portraits is a joint partnership between David Borden and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.

Learn More or Join the Project

If you want to learn more about the project or become a model. (I’m always looking for models), contact David at

David Talks about the Project at Malvern Books

An explanation of the project by David Borden

Special Thanks to Tanya Winters for her help in writing this article.

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Facebook @scribblefire

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