Once a lawyer by profession, Spanish painter Cris de Diego never thought she would dedicate herself to art. A lifelong lover of museums, she used to enjoy artworks from afar. But when her visual disability threatened to get in the way of her passion, she knew it was time to act.
“At age 10, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and at 21 years, because of this disease, I began to lose my sight,” said de Diego in a recent interview. With an unwaveringly cheerful tone of voice, de Diego explained how, despite her illness, her remaining vision allowed her to finish her studies and work as a lawyer. But by 2006, her sight disappeared almost completely, limiting her to distinguishing only certain contrasts and shadows.
Losing her ability to see became a new beginning for de Diego. Things normally taken for granted, such as finding her way around the street, had to be relearned. Her life as she knew it had changed completely. And her purpose, too.
“I didn’t paint before I lost my sight,” said de Diego. “I really liked going to museums, and when I lost my sight, the first thing I asked myself was how I could perceive a work of art now.” Over the next five years, de Diego committed herself to her own artistic practice, quickly receiving recognition and acclaim from major European institutions and media such as Cadena SER, Cadena Cope, ONCE, and the Vodafone Foundation.
Shortly after losing her vision, de Diego went back to college—this time to get a degree in tourism, focusing on cultural sites and their accessibility. In those years, she experienced firsthand the great divide that people with disabilities face when trying to access art. Though she could enter museums, the magic she had felt when she was able to see a work of art was gone. The audio descriptions of the paintings, while accurate, did not give her a real sense of what the artist was depicting on the canvas.
De Diego’s concern for accessibility in art led her to obtaining a double degree in fine arts and tourism. “I wanted to train in art history and theory, but I also had to take drawing and painting classes,” she said. The experience she had with her teachers would end up shaping her career forever.