In 2005, 24-year-old Lisa Cox was rushed to hospital after she collapsed at Melbourne Airport. Tests and scans reveled a significant bleed in her brain caused by a rare strain of the streptococcus-A virus, which resulted in her internal organs shutting down, one by one. She spent three weeks in a coma and two months on life support. Lisa’s extremities had turned gangrenous, and despite initial concerns that she could lose both legs and one arm, surgeons amputated nine fingertips, all of her toes and one leg. The permanent damage to her brain has affected Lisa’s speech and memory, left her 25% blind, epileptic and frequently fatigued.
Lisa doesn’t consider herself a victim and she knows what it’s like to start all over. Since she hit restart, Lisa has had many personal and professional achievements. She’s started her own business, written two books, become a professional public Speaker and met and married her husband. We’ve asked Lisa why she decided to get involved with Last Seen and what this campaign means to her.
“Last Seen is a unique and innovative way to draw attention to an issue that needs greater awareness. I’ve lost a lot of things because of my disabilities but losing part of my sight was definitely one of the hardest. Vision impairment is an ‘invisible disability’ for me, but it is far more disabling than my wheelchair, prosthetic leg or other things you can see,” says Lisa.
“The campaign includes a diverse mix of participants and challenges the mindset of, “it’ll never happen to me”. The project also challenges the stereotype that people with vision impairment only look a certain way or are only of a certain age. It educates the audience that vision loss can happen to anyone, at any age,” she explains.
Lisa hopes Last Seen will also remind people how important their sight is. “Having no leg doesn’t really impact my life that much but having poor sight impacts me every day.”
Lisa’s most dearly held visual memory is a street with overarching trees in Melbourne. Her home was a 200 meter walk to the tram, and while she hated the daily walk in the sun, wind or rain, she would now do anything to be able to walk down the street and see those trees the way she used to.
Lisa has been partnered with Brisbane-based artist, Pip Spiro. Pip is best known for her vivid, large scale botanical and still life paintings. Inspired by her natural surrounds and a quintessential Queensland upbringing spent embracing the outdoors, Pip’s aim is to make art that gives space for a simple appreciation of and connection with beauty.
Pip says once she understood the kinds of people and stories that would make up the Last Seen project she was immediately compelled to be a part of it.
“Vision is a sense that forms so much of our life experience; when you stop to think about just how different it would be without full sight, it is very humbling,” says Pip.
“Using art as a way into the last and most precious visions of the world that people can no longer see, is such a clever and hopefully impactful way to shine a light on what this loss of sight can mean, and hopefully it opens up the discussion and brings awareness to this. For me, hand in hand with contemplating what this ‘loss’ might feel like is a recognition of the immense strength, perseverance and tenacity it must take to soldier through the hurdles that vision impairment must bring. I have so much admiration for Lisa. The hurdles are many and so much that we take for granted is not a given for her, yet she continues on with such positivity and purpose and just gets on with it,” she says.
“Lisa’s ‘Last Seen’ is a departure from my usual still life and botanical subjects. I didn’t have a first-hand account nor much reference for the street and initially found this challenging as my painting eye is trained to re-create every last detail I see… the irony here was not lost on me! Ultimately I embraced this and enjoyed drawing on Lisa’s descriptions and memories of the street to capture all of this for her, which felt really fitting. I wanted to convey the colour and light and feeling of the street she remembers, rather than every last detail,” says Pip as she explains how the project challenged her as an artist.
“Some people may be born without sight and some may lose it along the way, which can be through quite devastating and traumatic circumstances. For those in the latter, the memories that remain of the faces, places and things they treasure the most are often all they have. This fills me with so much emotion, to think that this could be taken from anyone at any time; but also has made me think a lot about the weight of memories and how important they are to all of us. At the end that’s often all we have. It has also been a great dose of perspective and a reminder that so many people are fighting their own battles, we all just have to do is to do the best with what we’ve got and be kind,”