Last February I marched up the stairs to my barn studio layered in my winter uniform: snowpants, heavy boots, heavy coat, a hat, a scarf, fingerless gloves. It was frigid and messy in the studio, but it was where I needed to be. I plugged in the electric heater, put on some music and tacked a piece of raw canvas to the wall.

Martha Miller, Ghost Eyeballs

It was time to tell my daughter Lisbeth’s story. Lisbeth, now 37, suffered a traumatic injury from a viral illness when she was six years old and never recovered. Over the next several weeks the images poured forth.

Martha Miller, Wheel of Fortune

Martha Miller, Is Lis

Martha Miller, Red Lisbeth

By the end of the series there were 22 in all. Every day I set up my camera phone and took videos of the process and posted these on my Instagram account. My studio provided a physical and psychic sanctuary – a safe place to splatter and thrash and express the rage, grief and unexpected joy connected to being the mother of a young woman with a chronic debilitating illness.

Martha Miller, The Is of Lis, left panel

Martha Miller, The Is of Lis, center panel

Martha Miller, The Is of Lis, right panel

My studio provided the space to birth these images. Instagram provided another sort of sanctuary – a place to share publicly this very private journey with sympathetic others: Artists, parents of children with special needs, and just plain folks offered up cheers of encouragement which helped fuel my will to soldier on and tell my daughter’s painful yet beautiful story. We must find these havens where our truth can be set free, witnessed and acknowledged. This is what it means to be human.

Martha Miller, Is Lis



Featured image above top: Martha Miller, Green Smile