COD Distinguished Alumni Mariam Paré shares her incredible story

Bridget Kingston , Features Editor

It started as a day like any other for artist Mariam Paré, until a tragic event single handedly changed the course of her journey forever. In 1996, a then 20-year-old Paré was focused on her imminent art career and a life filled with creativity when a single bullet from an unknown shooter struck her in the back of her neck, paralyzing her instantly. For the rest of her life she would be unable to walk and have very limited function of her arms and hands.

Paré now found herself in a devastating situation. She knew she needed to express herself and create art, but she would have to do so without the use of her hands. Her solution? Simple. Paint with her mouth.

The COD alumni first discovered the possibility of mouth painting during rehabilitation, where she learned to sign her name by writing with a pen in her mouth.

“In that moment, I thought, ‘OK, if I can write my name with a pen in my mouth, then why can’t I paint with a brush in my mouth?’” she recalls.

At that time, Paré wasn’t aware that other people were mouth painting; she thought it was solely something she began doing to continue her career despite her disability.

“It was very experimental because I had already been painting for practically my entire life. It truly was starting all over again.” After her injury, with everything in her life a huge question mark, it was comforting to Paré to know that she still could have the life of an artist she’d always dreamed of. Now, nearly 20 years later, Pare has been honored as a 2015 Distinguished Alumni of the college.

“It became my saving grace amidst my disability,” Paré continues. “It was the one thing from my former life that I could still do.” Mouth painting definitely didn’t come easily, but the benefits for Paré have been vast.

In the past year, her art has been collected by actor Pierce Brosnan, who after learning of her work invited her to his home where she presented him with a painting of him as James Bond. She has also appeared on TV to speak with Katie Couric and Kathie Lee Gifford.

Before her injury, Paré completed a few semesters at COD as an art major, beginning in 1995. She later moved to California, where she was injured. She returned home to Illinois to be with her family during rehabilitation and recovery, and subsequently returned to COD in 1998 after completing rehabilitation. Now, nearly 20 years later, Pare has been honored as a 2015 Distinguished Alumni of the college.

“College of DuPage was my first experience of re-entering society as a newly disabled person. They were so accommodating. COD was where I learned how I fit in, how I interact with other people, how people interact with me,” she said.

Paré explained how helpful the school was with aiding her in completing her classes as an art student. The techniques she learned in class are still the techniques she uses today, in addition to necessary life skills she formed while attending the college. Being recognized as a 2015 Distinguished Alumni was a great honor for Paré, as it shows how far she has come as an artist, and an advocate.

“Being honored by the very place that gave me such a great foundation really served as a symbol of coming full circle to me,” she said.

Paré also credits COD with motivating her to begin advocating for the disabled . She teaches mouth painting and alternative forms of creating art to children and disabled people, which she acknowledges as an accomplishment that brings her much pride.

Paré has also spoken in collaboration with numerous groups, including The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Illinois Spinal Cord Injury Group, the MFPA, and Omorose Cosmetics.

As for what’s yet to come, Paré is looking forward to continually integrating art into her life in as many forms as possible.

“I am absolutely compelled by art, and so when I think of the future, I just get so excited thinking about all the amazing projects I have yet to do, and things I have yet to make. I have lots of things I want to say, and I say it through my art.”

Visit Mariam’s website, for more information on her artwork and advocacy. Also check out the video of Paré sharing her artwork with actor Pierce Brosnan at