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Vicky Mochama: Boundless In The City's Stella Palikarova demystifies disability

As a new year starts, hopefully we can start talking about people with disabilities as full human beings — precisely what Palikarova is doing.

Stella Palikarova is an an artist and disability advocate.

Nick Lachance / For Metro

Stella Palikarova is an an artist and disability advocate.

With elections looming at Queen’s Park and city hall in 2018, change is on the horizon. In this three-part series, meet the grassroots activists shaping the future now.

Part 3: Stella Palikarova of Boundless In The City on using art for activism.

Stella Palikarova wants to answer the questions that people are afraid to ask.

That’s why the 38-year-old disability advocate, awareness consultant and interdisciplinary artist launched her own platform about disabilities. Boundless In The City is a project that she sees as part of her activism.

“Even though I’ve been doing advocacy work for the last 16-plus years, this particular brand is very new,” she told me by phone.

With Boundless in the City, a social media and multimedia project, she plans to demystify what disability means and especially what it means for women with disabilities.

For her, art is a big part of that work. It’s a tool she’s been honing since childhood. Her mother, a classical violinist, instilled a strong love of music and she began writing poems and stories from an early age.

That passion for writing took her to York University, where she studied screenwriting. From there she attended the University of Toronto for a master’s degree in information studies.

One of her first major projects was a short film she wrote, directed and starred in called Maybe Tuesday. The movie uses dance and music to explore themes of intimacy and disability.

Her next project is a public photography installation about what it is like to have a relationship with an able-bodied man.  

By using art to explore complicated and challenging issues, she hopes that the public, both able-bodied and disabled, can have better conversations about disability. As a new year starts, hopefully we can start talking about people with disabilities as full human beings. And that’s precisely what Palikarova is doing.

“I don’t want to keep this insular to people with disabilities. I would really love to see a forum eventually where people without disabilities, able-bodied folk, can also come to get information, to have conversations to ask questions and to feel like they’re included in the conversation. That’s very important to me,” she says.

“You can’t ask someone to care about your cause and to be interested in your struggles and achievements if you’re not including them in the dialogue.”

Sharing her art and her perspective via Boundless In The City is how Palikarova plans to address the myths and stereotypes that women with disabilities face in everything from dating to getting an education to finding work.

“I would like people to have a way to see what our lives are all about. And to understand the challenges around accessing intimacy, employment and education,” she says.

And when she says what life is all about, she means all the facets that make a person’s life, something she says is sometimes lacking in organizations she’s encountered that tend to serve a singular aspect or need.

“The truth is disability touches every part of my life; it’s not something I can divorce from,” she says.

From filmmaking to photography to policy work at universities to public speaking, Palikarova’s activism takes many forms. But to her, it’s simple: “I call it advocacy, but for me it’s really just a way of expressing what’s important to me.”

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