Tag Archives: disability art

My Photos in Transforming Community – Disability Exhibition

Laurie says:

I am very happy to have 2 photos in the Transforming Community: Disability, Diversity and Access exhibition at the Westbeth Gallery in New York City.

It takes place during the 2015 Women’s Caucus of the Arts National Conference, which explores access and difference in its many forms. It runs from February 7th to the 22nd.

Quote is from the WCA exhibition information:

Disability challenges all facets of art and its accessibility: experiencing art, art education, interacting with art(ists), and art making. What are new ways of seeing, hearing, experiencing, and witnessing artwork? In the past, disability has functioned as a metaphor to signify tragedy, injury, oppression, and lack. Disabled people in representation held the space of the plucky survivor, the trickster figure, and the liminal shadow. In more recent decades, different perspectives with different cultural frameworks are emerging in the broader community.

Kim Manri
Kim Manri was photographed in her studio. She is the director of Taihen, a famous Japanese disability dance and performance company. I photographed her a part of my Women of Japan Project.

How do artists find space, time and audiences for expressing artful differences, whether these differences be physical, cognitive, emotional or sensory? How do forms of difference encourage new connections, new conceptions of what it means to be alive, to be in community, to be alone, to be part of the wider world? How do different experiences of the world re-shape what art can mean? How do conceptions of race, gender, class, settler/native status, and sexuality become more powerfully expressed when combined with disability or vice versa? We welcome engagement on this topic under the widest possible umbrella.”

Edison_Sue H
Sue H was an activist on issues of Fat Liberation and disability when I photographed her for my book Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes.

The juror was Petra Kupers, a disability culture activist, a community performance artist, and a Professor at the University of Michigan, who has written illuminatingly on these issues.

This broad and nuanced conversation about disability is very important to me and to my work (the photographs span from 1994 to 2005), and exhibitions like this happen all too rarely. So I am especially glad that my work is part of it.

My Body Is Not an Apology: Fostering Radical Self-Love

Laurie and Debbie say:

This year is the 20th anniversary of the publication of Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes, and one of the most gratifying experiences we’ve had in these two decades is watching the explosion of other artists and activists developing the same artistic, social justice, and self-delight themes we were (and still are) committed to.

The Body Is Not an Apology is a particularly fine example of the great work being done today.

The Body Is Not An Apology is a global movement focused on radical self love and body empowerment. We believe that each time one of us unapologetically owns our beauty, loves our scars, heals our shame; we in turn give others permission to do the same! We believe that discrimination, social inequality and injustice are manifestations of our inability to make peace with the body, our own and others. Through education, personal transformation projects and community building, The Body is Not An Apology fosters global, radical, unapologetic self love which translates to radical human action in service toward a more just and compassionate world.

We were particularly struck by Natalie E. Illum’s post from last week, “Why I No Longer Apologize for My Crutches.”

Natalie Illum at her piano

Illum, who has cerebral palsy, recounts some of her history with her disabled body. Please read the whole post; it has much more than we can capture here.

I didn’t really think in terms like beautiful/ugly or shame/confidence. I knew that my disability was permanent and that I was a financial and physical burden to my family. Those were the facts. I was sometimes told I looked nice, but I didn’t expect to hear words like beautiful or stunning associated with any part of my body. Ever. Those words were for able-bodied people.

Illum walking down a hall with crutches

Through her experiences as a slam poet, she recounts meeting some remarkable women, including Sonya Renee Taylor, founder of The Body Is Not an Apology, and later Denise Jolly, who invited her into the #Be Beautiful Project:

[The project] is based largely on a series of “selfies.” I knew I couldn’t stage a photo shoot alone: my hands often shake and my knees lock when I try to hold any type of camera or phone. So we did the best thing we could to accommodate our strengths and abilities: we collaborated. I wanted to assert my body in places I felt most comfortable and safe in Washington, DC, such as the Black Cat’s elevator, The Fridge DC, and my apartment. I also wanted to capture the everyday moments that make me feel most disabled: tying my shoes, balancing in the shower, and getting up after a fall. …

Yes, these photos are revealing – intentionally revealing – and celebratory. Okay, I’ll admit it: they are sexy. Because, why not?! They are the thing itself: my body, as it is now. I cannot separate my body from the cerebral palsy that came with it. I do not want to. Throughout each photo shoot, Denise kept repeating, Natalie, you are beautiful; that shot was amazing; just wait until you see yourself. I wish I could say that to every person who needs a wheelchair or braces or a catheter or a personal care attendant:You are beautiful. I know. The Body is Not an Apology. I promise.

The description of Jolly as photographer reminds Debbie so much of modeling for Women En Large, about which she said:

I took off my clothes for [Laurie] and listened to her murmur with pleasure as she worked. In fact, what she was probably saying was, “That’s beautiful, you’re amazing, wait until you see yourself.” This is why modeling for Women En Large was transformative for so many women, and modeling for the #Be Beautiful Project is similarly transformative.

In 20 years, we have come both closer to, and further away from, a world in which bodies are not apologies. Through the work of Sonya Renee Taylor and Denise Jolly and thousands of other activists, artists, and allies, we we can imagine actual victory, can think of everyone loving our bodies as an achievable goal.