The opening night viewing party for the groundbreaking project, “Hidden,” will take place on Saturday, April 13 from 6-8 p.m. / Photo by Sarah Hooker

Asheville-based Body Love Coach Christine Garvin and Photographer Sarah Hooker have combined forces to create a photo essay exhibit that highlights the hidden illnesses and disabilities that many women face.

Garvin’s world exploded in summer 2018 after emergency surgeries that left her with an ileostomy bag, and her eyes were opened to how many women in the U.S. are hiding their illnesses behind a cloak of shame. Hooker has recently dived deeper into her photographic work with women and body acceptance. Together, the two unmask what has remained in the shadows, empowering both the subjects of the project and all who witness it.

Completed in 2018, the exhibit consists of individual and group shots showcasing a diverse group of women who each look “healthy,” but are in fact dealing with a range of chronic pain. Beside each photo, their story is showcased in their own words, explaining their physical and mental illnesses, relating their personal and emotional trials and triumphs, and what it’s like to contend with a healthcare system that is prohibitively expensive and often doesn’t believe them.

This exhibit is multifaceted in its approach to social justice and women’s rights and is an important addendum in the era of #metoo: with an estimated 50 million women facing chronic pain in the U.S., it is an epidemic discussed way too little.

The subject’s stories highlight how women are often belittled in healthcare, their concerns and knowledge pushed aside. Research is woefully inadequate, with only 1 percent of research funding from the National Institutes of Health dedicated to chronic pain. Answers are few and far between. Our question to the viewer: how can we change this?

This event isn’t your ordinary art opening; tickets include heavy hors d’oeuvres, a beverage, readings and updates from the women who were photographed, and other special treats. A photographer will be on hand to capture the special evening.

Some of the proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, which does wonderful advocacy work for these illnesses and the women who still struggle to be believed.

The event will be held on Saturday, April 13 from 6-8 p.m. at The Block Off Biltmore, 39 S. Market St. in Asheville.

Tickets cost $10. Purchase them online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/hidden-exhibit-opening-night-tickets-57064677988.

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