Spina Bifida: Front to Back

A series of portraits of people living with spina bifida.  

Steve Kean has spina bifida. He is a disabled artist. For the first time in his artistic practice, he is examining how people like him who live with this condition, view themselves and seek to claim their power and beauty.

Body image remains a relevant topic in many different contexts. “Front to Back” focuses on the context of disability. Spina bifida often results in the necessity of using a wheelchair. People look down on those with spina bifida, literally and figuratively. They have historically suffered great indignity, even for the sake of medical education. Being the subject of treatment and learning is an experience many of those with spina bifida share.

“Front to Back” has been a true collaboration between Kean and those he photographs. It is a path to a sense of dignity and control over what happens to those with spina bifida. Audiences for the images in this project will see the people first. People whose lives have meaning and are beautiful.

Exhibiting this work in a public space was the final step and has given Kean and the participants whom he photographs a place and time to show spina bifida as a beautiful part of how they inhabit their bodies and shape their lives.

An educational resource guide for this exhibition is available for download HERE. This resource covers the key themes of the exhibition content and provides dicussion points for gallery and in class sessions. To book a gallery lead session with your class during the exhibition please email galleries [at] humber.ca

Image Credit: Steve Kean

This exhibition is presented by Tangled Arts and sponsored by Humber’s Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Diversity.




Artist Bio

Steve Kean is a photographer originally from Sudbury who has been living in Toronto for the past 23 years. He came to photography while in high school where he was failing art class. Kean’s disability made it difficult for him to draw or paint, but he still had a burning need to create art. A camera was the answer for him. Mostly self-taught, Steve has made tens-of-thousands of images over more than thirty years attempting to master his craft. 

Much of Kean’s work focuses on how people with disabilities inhabit their bodies and illustrate how their experiences may differ from everyone else.  His images challenge the viewer to think about how people with disabilities see and interact with the world they share with able-bodied people. Influenced by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston, Vincenzo Pietropaolo and W. Eugene Smith, Steve seeks to capture the moment(s) that can define his subjects and their place in society.


Tangled Art + Disability

Tangled Art + Disability is boldly redefining how the world experiences art and those who create it. We are a not for profit art + disability organization dedicated to connecting professional and emerging artists, the arts community and a diverse public through creative passion and artistic excellence. Our mandate is to support Deaf, Mad and disability-identified artists, to cultivate Deaf, Mad and disability arts in Canada, and to enhance access to the arts for artists and audiences of all abilities. 


Humber’s Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Diversity

The Centre’s initiatives integrate the complex and often contradictory ways that socially constructed identities intersect and interlock. As such, initiatives extend beyond binaries such as male/female, black/white, gay/straight, able/disabled to include multiple layers of identity that are experienced simultaneously. This intersectional and integrative approach, grounded in a practice of care, is woven throughout all of the Centre’s services.