Sculpture by Disabled Women Artists

Laurie and Debbie say:

S.E. Smith at FWD/Forward found this site, which showcases an exhibit of sculpture by disabled women artists, called RE/FORMATIONS, which was mounted at Davidson College in North Carolina in 2009.

The exhibit featured five disabled artists, Rebecca Horn, Nancy Fried, Harriet Sanderson, Judith Scott, and Laura Splan. All of their work is displayed on the website. As Smith says, “This being the Internet, I’m afraid none of us can touch the sculpture, but we can look at it.”

Nancy Fried’s work is about mastectomy.

Sculpture of the torso of a fat one-breasted woman, hands on hips, with the left breast gone and the right breast hanging well down onto the stomach

The museum website says: Nancy Fried began creating terra-cotta torsos of women who had undergone radical mastectomies in 1986 following her own mastectomy. She subsequently chose not to have her missing breast reconstructed. It is Fried’s subtle use of nostalgia, and her ability to bridge the divide between the loss and pain of a mastectomy and the pride and power of diversity, that sets her apart from the majority of her colleagues. Fried’s embracing disability as an identity not to be “overcome” is what makes her work art and not therapy. Fried says she hopes to help “redefine female beauty,” and her torsos do this by virtue of their honesty and power.

Laurie says: It would never occur to me to call this work therapy. Knowing about her life and her choices tells me something about her personally but everything she has to say as an artist is in the work. And in some ways a statement like this limits the perception of the work and directs the viewers about how they “should” look at it.

Rebecca Horn uses images of assistive technology in both sculpture and performance art.

a sculpture of a wheelchair with several attached assistive devices, viewed from one side

Debbie says: This wheelchair sculpture does (at least) two things. One is that it gets us to actually look at the wheelchair not just as functional device but as designed object: shape and color and imagined texture, and the ways things fit together. The other is that, by placing a device which may be a rear-view mirror at a height the user might want it, and having an extensible arm holding an empty glass, Horn conjures up an invisible wheelchair user. Perhaps she is commenting on disability and invisibility, or perhaps she just wants us to see the chair and its function simultaneously.

The museum website says: Judith Scott was born with Down syndrome and lost her hearing soon after birth from scarlet fever. Scott was institutionalized from the time she was seven years old until she was forty-four; at that time, her sister gained custody of her and took her to San Francisco. While there, Scott enrolled at the Creative Growth Art Center, where she began making sculpture.

wicker chair with baskets, yarn and ribbon woven complexly over it

…The found objects that had once functioned as a fan, a hair dryer, a book, or a chair, abandoned their function in the transformative hands of Scott.

Scott’s work challenges the traditional definition of the artist: does her lack of understanding or articulation of a philosophy mean that her art has less value? Perhaps it causes us, instead, to question the ways in which we make and quantify meaning.

Laurie says: When I look at Scott’s work I see complicated meanings and highly imaginative aesthetic work. I could make up any number of “artist’s statements” to explain it. And none of them would have any effect on the power or quality of the work.

In a more recent post which references her sculpture post, Smith has a lot of perceptive stuff to say about body image and loving and not loving our bodies. We will be writing about this in the next week or two, once we’ve clarified the things she’s getting us to think about.