Campus & Community

Emergent Digital Practices student uses art to explore her MS diagnosis

In April 2009, Denver native Sarah Richter’s world was turned upside down. After experiencing bouts of severe vertigo, triple vision and fatigue for months, Richter was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

“Getting MS was a catalyst,” says Richter, a graduate student in DU’s emergent digital practices (EDP) program, a fusion of art, design, media and culture and technology studies. “The experience of seeing and perceiving the world so differently drastically changed my sensory awareness. It offered me insights into the possibilities and limitations of our senses and provided me with an opportunity to examine my life and purpose in a more meaningful way.”

Prior to her MS diagnosis, Richter worked in commercial art. While she found the job interesting, Richter felt she wasn’t living the authentic life she craved. A friend suggested the EDP program, and after sitting in on a class taught by EDP professor Laleh Mehran, Richter knew she had found her calling.

“I was truly amazed by the curriculum and the advanced, cutting-edge work the students were creating,” she says. “I felt so inspired, and beyond that, I wanted so much to be a part of this program.”

Richter soon began to explore her debilitating illness through art. Incorporating such mediums as sound, video, performance and interactivity, she creates works she hopes help audiences better understand MS — providing experience rather than explanation.

“This process often involves incorporating technology in a way that’s entirely new for me,” she says. “The unknown aspects and discovery are incredibly exciting, challenging and invigorating to explore.”

Richter was invited to exhibit her work earlier this year at the art gallery on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus — just steps away from her treatment team at the Rocky Mountain MS Center. Her “Sensory Paradox: An Artist’s Experience with Multiple Sclerosis” was focused on describing the sensations and feelings she associates with MS, including vertigo, fatigue and changes in vision and hearing.

“My hope in creating this work was to facilitate a dialogue of connection and understanding in relating to the experiences of those living with MS,” she says.

Richter will graduate from the EDP program in spring 2017. She plans to continue to grow as a professional artist, creating installations and perhaps teaching college courses.

“Seeing the world differently has been inspiring; overcoming obstacles has been liberating; and developing a deeper understanding of myself has been transformative,” she says. “Experiencing MS symptoms was a painful process, but it was incredibly beautiful, too.”


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