Riva Lehrer headshot

Riva Lehrer

Artist, Writer, Curator

Riva Lehrer is an artist, writer and curator who focuses on the socially challenged body. She is best known for representations of people whose physical embodiment, sexuality, or gender identity have long been stigmatized. 

Lehrer’s work has been seen in venues including the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian, The Rhode Island School of Design, Yale University, the United Nations, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, the Arnot Museum, the DeCordova Museum, the Frye Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the State of Illinois Museum.

Awards include the 2020 Disability Futures Fellowship of the Ford Foundation; the Nick and Keven Wilder Award for Excellence in Teaching, SAIC; 2017 Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant; 2017 3Arts MacDowell Fellowship for writing; 2015 3Arts Residency Fellowship at the University of Illinois; the 2014 Carnegie Mellon Fellowship at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges; the 2009 Prairie Fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation.

Grants include the 2009 Critical Fierceness Grant, the 2008 3Arts Foundation Grant, and the 2006 Wynn Newhouse Award for Excellence, (NYC), as well as grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the University of Illinois, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Lehrer’s memoir, Golem Girl, published by the One World imprint of Penguin/Random House in October 2020, won the 2020 Barbellion Prize for Literature, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, won the Midwest Authors Guild Award, and was shortlisted for the Chicago Review of Books 2020 CHIRBY Awards.

Lehrer is represented by Regal Hoffman & Associates literary agency, NYC, and by Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in Chicago.

A longtime faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Lehrer is currently an instructor in the Medical Humanities Departments of Northwestern University.

Profile caption: Riva Lehrer Profile image by: Tom O'Dowd

Featured Artworks

  •  Riva Lehrer artwork Circle Stories: Tekki Lomnicki Tekki Lomnicki is an actor, writer, and founding director of Tellin’ Tales Theater. She has starred in numerous solo and collaborative shows.

    Acrylic on wood, 48 x 36, 1999

  •  Riva Lehrer artwork Totems and Familiars: Lynn Manning Lynn Manning was a playwright, actor, and martial artist based in Los Angeles. He was founder of the Watts Village Theater, as well as the 1990 World Champion in Blind Judo at the Paralympics. He passed away in 2015.

    Charcoal on paper, two parts, 44 x 30", and 18 x 30", 2008

  •  Riva Lehrer artwork Totems and Familiars: Mat Fraser Mat Fraser, actor, playwright, and activist has starred in American Horror Story: Freak Show; His Dark Materials; The Mandalorian, and more, including his retelling of Beauty and the Beast, off-Broadway, and has played Richard III in a UK production.

    Charcoal on paper, 44 x 30", 2008

  •  A woman with glasses, dark hair, crouches in a room defined by peeling wallpaper. She wields a mirror and pole with wired dip-pen, endeavoring to draw her mother, reading her memoir, on the wall. Blue ink bottle nearby; her shadow overlays the drawing. Alison Bechdel Cartoonist Alison Bechdel is the winner of a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship Award, for graphic novels including Fun Home, (now a Broadway musical) and Are You My Mother. Burlington, VT

    acrylic, charcoal & dimensional collage on paper 30” x 44” x 1”. 2010

  •  Riva Lehrer artwork Totems and Familiars: TIM/OWL Portrait of artist Tim Lowly with a metaphoric portrait of his disabled daughter, Temma.

    ‘Charcoal and mixed media, 40 x 30 x 4". Tim Lowly’ is a charcoal drawing, but the owl is made of handmade paper, wood, clay, glass, twigs, organdy, and Bible pages. The owl’s wings jut 4” from the drawing surface.

  •  Riva Lehrer artwork Carrie Sandahl Carrie Sandahl is a professor of theater, performance and disability theory at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This image explores Sandahl's involvement with the BDSM community and its relationship to disability,aA refutation of suffering.

    Acrylic on wood, 48 x 24", 2017

  •  Riva Lehrer artwork The Risk Pictures: Finn Enke Professor Finn Enke at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, specializes in History, Gender, Women’s and LGBTQ+ Studies. Author of 'Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space and Feminist Activism', and editor of 'Transfeminist Perspectives...'.

    Colored pencil and collage on toned paper, 44" x 24". 2015

  •  A Black woman with multicolored hair lies nude on her back in a dancerly pose, atop a schematic drawing of her wheelchair. Under the chair is a curled silhouette. She added a small dancing figure and gestural lines of motion. Curtains frame the scene. The Risk Pictures: Alice Sheppard Founder and artistic lead of Kinetic Light, Alice fosters transformative art at the intersection of disability, dance, design, identity, and tech. Her work promotes intersectional disability aesthetics as an essential creative and accessible force.

    2 layers of frosted Mylar, charcoal, colored pencil, pastel and collage, 40 x 50"

  •  Author Achy Obejas, known for works exploring her queer Jewish/Cuban exile experience, inscribed two sets of torn-paper scrolls for this piece. One set features bilingual erotic memories. The second, holding secret memories, is sewn shut in a vitrine. The Risk Pictures: Achy Obejas Author Achy Obejas, known for works exploring her queer Jewish/Cuban exile experience, inscribed two sets of torn-paper scrolls for this piece. One set features bilingual erotic memories. The second, holding secret memories, is sewn shut in a vitrine.

    2021. Mix media charcoal with paper collage, 44 x 30". Vitrine with sculpture, 12 x 12 x 12", 2021

  •  Chinese-American woman in her forties with short black hair, sits in a power chair, donning a black hoodie and oxygen mask. She's situated in her family home hallway, adorned with cat photos. The border depicts the artist's own laptop, including icons. The Zoom Portraits: Alice Wong Alice Wong, a San Francisco-based disabled activist, media maker, podcaster, memoirist, essayist, and consultant, is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project–a community devoted to amplifying disability media and culture.

    Graphite, colored pencil on paper 25.25 x 31.25", 2020

  •  Riva Lehrer artwork Rosemarie Garland-Thomas Bioethicist Garland-Thomson promotes better treatment of Disabled individuals in medicine. As an advocate, educator, and scholar, her work is highly influential. Her 2016 editorial, 'Becoming Disabled,' initiated a New York Times op-ed series.

    Acrylic on wood, 48 x 24", 2022