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Q-and-A with Marissa Webb: Photographer explores relationship with sister

marissa and kaitlin webb

Marissa Web with her sister, Kaitlin, in her series Silent Sister.

A Friends of the Arts grant helped M.F.A. photographer Marissa Webb fulfill her dream of exhibiting work that delved into the life and relationships of her 20-year-old sister, Kaitlin.

Kaitlin has Rett syndrome, a nervous system disorder that leads to developmental regression and inhibits her ability to communicate. In the exhibit Silent Sister, which was shown during the fall semester at Milner Library, Webb looked at how Kaitlin sees the world and relates to her family.

Webb, a Rockford native, recently spoke about her background, this project, and the importance of Friends of the Arts grants.

Why did you become an artist?

First and foremost I come from an art family. My father is the managing theater director and producer at Rock Valley College’s Starlight and Studio Theatres, he also teaches theater as well. My mother was a costume designer and is now a fiber artist and art professor. And my brother is an illustrator/Web designer. I grew up in an art household. I was handed a camera at age 13 by my father and I was asked to photograph a show. And I fell in love with photography right then and there. So the reason I became an artist is through my family and their love of the arts.

Why did you come to Illinois State University?

I came to Illinois State University for lots of reasons. It’s a smaller program, and I wanted more one-on-one with professors. I really liked the idea of the interdisciplinary opportunities. And it was closer to home. It’s two hours away. I was at Brooklyn College before I came here.

Tell me a little bit about the project, and where did you show the work?

The project started my second semester at Illinois State University. And I wanted to do a project on Rett syndrome. And first it was supposed to be this big project where I worked with multiple families. Then I realized that was kind of hard to achieve, so I wanted to focus in on my own sister, who has the disorder. And so that is where the project took off. From there it has evolved into a project about consciousness and normalcy, relationships, and it’s kind of like looking in on my own personal family life with my mother, my fiance, and myself involved. And it’s mainly about my sister, Kaitlin, who is 20 years old and was diagnosed about age 13. And I got the grant because Kathleen Lonbom at Milner Library offered me an exhibition opportunity to display my work and work across schools. So I was able to work with professors in the school of education and special ed. And so this came about, and then I got the grant, and then I was able to purchase all the supplies I needed to put this show up.

What’s it been like to expose not only your art but such a personal subject matter to the public?

It was a challenge emotionally up front. And now a year and a half later it’s put a lot of perspective on my relationship with (Kaitlin). And I view things slightly different now, and now I’m able to take that step back from someone that I love so much and I care about so much and put it out there for other people to see.

Why was the Friends of the Art grant important?

The Friends of the Arts grant was important for many reasons. One financially. To put on the exhibition it was going to run me a bunch of money. It provided me with the financial stability and backing to actually complete what I had dreamed of completing, which was this exhibition at Milner.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently I’m working on my thesis exhibition for April 15 (at University Galleries), as well as I have been introducing new parts to my work, which is related as a collaboration of my sister, Kaitlin, and myself. I make her books. And then I give her the books of the photographs, then she destroys them, and then I have been reappropriating the images back into images. So it has come full circle in a conversation with my sister.

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to find a school where I can teach at, but it is based on where my fiance is going to be going to grad school. We both graduate in May. And so it is slightly open-ended at this moment.

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