It was October 31, 1993 when visual artist Janine Hughes went blind. She was 18 years old.
Hughes says her blindness was more of a whiteout than a blackout. She describes it "like driving on the New Jersey Turnpike in a sudden snow storm." After months of fear, pain and invasive medical testing, she was left with just a vague neurological diagnosis and little hope from her doctors.
Despite their dour prognosis, Hughes recovered her eyesight. "At 18 years old, I was remarkably naïve," she says. "I never considered that anything would happen other than complete recovery. The doctors ... were very negative and told me that I would have to have surgeries and procedures and that the condition was degenerative. I never believed them and went with acupuncture and exercise instead."
The incident was the first of two medical experiences that would affect Hughes's art.
A decade later, Hughes collapsed. She was diagnosed with papillary carcinoma of the thyroid and began treatment at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. "I became obsessed with biology and anatomy and spent four years stumbling through online medical journals searching for answers for my relentless physical pain. I found that thousands of people with my specific kind of cancer had exposure to radiation in childhood."
Hughes found information about the child survivors of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl; many of the children who lived in those areas developed cancer immediately or soon later. "There's a definitive correlation between exposure to radiation as a child and certain cancers."
In 2012, she visited Chernobyl and the town where the workers lived; the area is permanently contaminated and uninhabitable. "I'd read so many contradictory theories about radiation exposure, it was important for me to travel to the Ukraine and speak to local people and face the truth for myself."
Her travels left Hughes with one conclusion: "The power industries know the risks and consequences of nuclear meltdowns, and choose to misinform the public."
What She Does: "I'm a visual artist and make installations which include forms reminiscent of microbiology made with materials associated with toys, or children's belongings."
Why She Likes It: "Making objects fulfills my obsessive need to create independently."
What Inspires Her: "Even though my health is now dramatically improved, I remain haunted and enamored with color-enhanced microbiological imagery. I sometimes incorporate photographs or videos from [my trip to the Ukraine] into my installations."
If Not This, Then What: "Being an artist is my dream gig!"
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If Not Here, Then Where: "I've lived all over the world and traveled all over the country. I have chosen to live in Houston for the diversity ... and the breakfast tacos."
What's Next: "In a few weeks, I am flying to California for a paid artist residency at Stonehouse Contemporary Arts."
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