Below are photos from my photography exhibit Overdressed, a docu-series taken over two years showing the serious realities of living with environmental illness, while wearing my fanciest piece of clothing, a blue gown. A special thanks to Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) and Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba (AANM) for sponsoring this exhibition. Please click on the first photo to activate the gallery view so you can see them full-size.
I live with Environmental Illness (known as environmental sensitivities), Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) and Toxic Mold Exposure. In those afflicted, these conditions cause adverse reactions to scents, chemicals, building supplies, mold, WiFi, electrical devices and so on. For some, the limited access to safe housing, food, public spaces, transportation and medical specialists can result in debilitating symptoms affecting multiple organ systems and lead to a life of isolation. For me, indoor housing has become intolerable.
I have thus taken to living a nomadic lifestyle by following the warm weather patterns that enable me to be outdoors. In the winter months, I migrate to the desert in a cargo van adapted for safe housing to ease the symptoms. The life I live is similar to living in quarantine and I think a lot about Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation. His Hierarchy of Needs implies that we must satisfy the needs of one stage before feeling motivated to arise to the next.
In survival mode 24/7, I go to great lengths to meet my basic needs. Accessing water, cooking, cleaning and personal care require careful planning. These seemingly simple tasks (turned all-day productions) are, in actuality, special events. To mark the occasion, I wear the most precious piece of clothing I own: a blue evening gown, and workboots to accessorize.
Exhausted, I’m then challenged with finding a comfortable place to rest. As I travel my boots become worn and the blue dress becomes increasingly dirtier. Amidst the hard work and difficulties, there are, nonetheless, moments when I feel I have attained freedom, esteem and belonging. Overdressed is a 2 year photo-documentation project to depict the journey I have undertaken towards self-actualization.
Editor’s Note: We just found out that the van Marie lives in currently needs to be replaced. If you’d like to support her work and her efforts to live in a safer vehicle, please consider donating to her gofundme.