Maria DiFranco Gregg‘s artworks constitute a social aspect which greatly informs her private studio practice. DiFranco-Gregg interprets and responds to the results of her research, creating installations, performances, and participatory projects that draw attention to contemporary stories that are unheard.
DiFranco-Gregg has explored the intersections of education and contemporary fine art through documentary filmmaking and interactive video artworks. Her current projects employ participatory digital media platforms.
DiFranco’s artwork has been exhibited throughout the United States including Purdue University in Indiana, the New Bedford Art Museum in Massachusetts, Red Line Gallery in Colorado, The H Gallery in California, Providence Art Club in Rhode Island, and The University of Akron in Ohio among others.
Creating A Personal Healing Image / 2017
Image: Paintings by anonymous cancer patients, created at The James Cancer Hospital for the “Creating A Personal Healing Image” book in 2016.
A participatory art project and publication created by artist Maria DiFranco-Gregg in collaboration with current female cancer patients at the Stephanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center at The James Cancer Hospital. In one hour painting sessions, DiFranco-Gregg and the participants explored how imagery and the process of art making can play a role in their remission. The work of these participants positively impacts the lives of other cancer patients by sharing their paintings in a book, which has been donated to The James Cancer Hospital for inpatient book carts.
Inspired by DiFranco-Gregg’s own experience as a cancer patient, the project intends to give female patients an alternative to the common magazine selection at OBGYN Oncology offices, which often contain articles on health and beauty (difficult subjects for cancer patients to encounter). The “Creating a Personal Healing Image” project has two objectives: to empower the participants to engage in a therapeutic activity that betters the lives of their fellow patients, and to provide readers with a momentary distraction from their stressful experience with a book of colorful and unique compositions.
The outcome of this project is a book of gorgeous paintings that illustrate a metaphorical expression of the patients’ experience with disease. The participants cast light on how the process of image-making can play a role in the emotional healing of cancer patients.
“Creating a Personal Healing Image” was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at The Ohio State University’s Office of Responsible Research Practices in 2015, and was funded by The Ohio State University Alumni Grant for Graduate Research and Scholarship. For her work on this project DiFranco-Gregg was also awarded the Coca Cola Critical Difference for Women Award in 2015.
Will You Wear My Body? / 2016
Image: "Will you wear my body?" seen here installed at Urban Art Space in Columbus, Ohio, 2016.
"Maria DiFranco's work challenges societal preoccupation with beauty, health and body image. In her interactive installation, she invites viewers to wear garments bearing imagery documenting her battle with cancer. The artist embraces the allure and fantasy of high fashion to force viewers to acknowledge illness as a physical reality. The work functions on multiple levels… as a gallery installation, a participatory work inviting viewers to partake in the artist’s vision, and as a performance.
The installation recalls a high-end boutique with a stylish wood-burned clothing rack that hangs from the ceiling at a comfortable distance from gallery visitors. Tempted by the beauty the display, viewers approach and interact with the installation. The artist, present at various intervals and wearing her own skin dress invites viewers to try on the garments and “wear her body.” As viewers try on the garments, they uncover a Susan Sontag quote about illness. The words of this famously eloquent writer/ critic/ cancer patient double as a revelation to the participant of the physical reality of cancer. Moreover, viewers must see themselves and let others see them in the DiFranco skin garments. Using the vehicles of high fashion and the imaginary mental construct of body perfection, DiFranco exposes a new physical vulnerability in her audience.
Rather than rarified couture embracing and enhancing preconceived notions of female beauty, DiFranco’s garments expose a hidden and less-desired side of the body. The garments enlarge hair follicles and expose scar tissue. Those who experience this installation/performance witness firsthand that cancer, beyond affecting bodily functions, also forces individuals to come to terms with new physical realities. Outcomes of this project arguably present a new physical awareness for viewer-participants. Potential illness can live beneath a veneer of health. A youthful body’s external beauty and its ability to grow and heal quickly also carries within it a possibility of out of control changes inherent in cancer cell growth. Like Sontag’s illness metaphor seared onto Franco’s display boards, the ponchos over healthy participant bodies call to mind a body’s ability to accept changes, treatments, and heal itself both of inner ailments and of society’s pathological culture of vanity."
Written by Mabi Ponce de León, 2016
My Dress / 2015
Image: "My Dress" seen here installed at the Fergus Award Exhibition in Columbus, Ohio, 2016.
In conjunction with the "Will you wear my body?" installation in The Ohio State University 2016 MFA thesis exhibition, DiFranco-Gregg engaged in a durational performance; wearing a piece titled, “My Dress”, which the artist hand made with digitally printed fabric. "My Dress" depicts an enlarged image of her cancer surgery scar. This performative act lasted for the entire length of the exhibition. The dress was a public costume, to honor those viewers who participated in her project "Will you wear my body?", bringing DiFranco-Gregg's project to life by wearing one of her strange or grotesque images.