|Unique Exhibition Challenges the Norm with Sculpture by Disabled Artists
January 13, 2009
Contact: Rachel Andoga
|RE/FORMATIONS is also unique in being accessible to everyone. A team of facilitators including (l-r) co-curator Jessica Cooley, Joel Snyder, Fred and Kathy Brack and their guide dog Rozen, and artist Harriet Sanderson created an audio tour of the exhibition for the visually impaired. The exhibition flier is also available in a Braille edition.|
The Van Every-Smith Galleries at Davidson College will present a groundbreaking art exhibition January 16 to February 27 that investigates the intersection between disability and female identities. RE/FORMATIONS: Disability, Women, and Sculpture will showcase the work of five female artists (Nancy Fried, Harriet Sanderson, Rebecca Horn, Judith Scott, and Laura Splan), four of whom are disabled. More information about the artists is available at the exhibition web site.
Co-curator Ann Fox, a professor of English at Davidson who specializes in disability studies, says RE/FORMATIONS is a first-of-its-kind look at what it means to be a disabled female sculptor.
“To the best of our knowledge, there hasn’t been another exhibit like this in the country,” said Fox. “There have been many exhibitions of disabled artists and disabled painters, but none that focus on the intersection of disability, female identity, and sculpture.”
Fox will moderate a panel discussion on “Women, Disability, and Art” on January 15 at 7 p.m. in the Alvarez College Union 900 Room that will kick off the exhibition. Other participants will be Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, the leading scholar in feminist disability studies, Ann Millett-Gallant, an art historian, and RE/FORMATIONS exhibition artists Laura Splan and Harriet Sanderson. A reception will be held in the Belk Visual Arts Center immediately following the discussion.
The exhibition will be on view in the Van Every-Smith Galleries of the Belk Visual Arts Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends from noon to 4 p.m. RE/FORMATIONS is made possible, in part, with funding by the Arts & Science Council and the Grassroots Program of the NC Arts Council. Click here for a full list of sponsors).
RE/FORMATIONS began in the mind of Jessica Cooley, co-curator of the exhibit and Assistant Curator of the Van Every-Smith Galleries, while she was researching public sculpture in preparation for the 2006 dedication of Davidson’s sculpture garden. “I noticed there was this amazing disproportion among male and female artists represented in sculpture gardens worldwide,” Cooley said. “If there were any women showcased—and usually, there were two or three out of 15—they were always the same artists. The search led me to ask, ‘Why are there not more women producing public sculpture in America?’”
Cooley continued, “Around that same time, I began reading about disability studies, and the idea for RE/FORMATIONS just kind of fell together. I started to realize that each of these identities—being disabled, being female, and working in sculpture—had certain elements in common.”
Harriet Sanderson's untitled 2008 sculpture of high heel shoes with walking cane segments was created as part of an installation for RE/FORMATIONS.
Ann Fox elaborated. “The connection between gender and disability studies is natural, especially since early disability studies came out of feminist studies and the questions it poses about the body. By intersecting disability and female identity, you can investigate what it means to be somebody who has two identities that are ‘other.’ We get to look at what these identities have in common—how have the female body and the disabled body been circumscribed by society?”
If female and disabled identities have been relegated, as Cooley describes, “to very domestic and interior spaces,” RE/FORMATIONS frees them from their constraints, and questions sculpture as a traditionally male art form. “Sculpture is so often seen as a very masculine field,” Fox said. “Just look at the media: stone, metal, wood. There’s an intense physicality to it, and the media are costly. But 60 percent of disabled Americans live below the poverty line. So what happens when people with different kinds of embodiment, and also perhaps limited funds, work in sculpture?”
Cooley hopes that RE/FORMATIONS will help patrons see disability as not inherently sad or tragic or personal. “I think just by putting disability in a public space, you bring it out of the institution, out of the hospital, and put it back in the world,” she said.
Davidson put Nancy Fried’s sculpture, “Torso with Hands on Hips,” (seen at left) “back in the world” by printing a photo of it in the Holiday edition of its Oak Row Report calendar of public events. The sculpture, which features the nude torso of a woman who underwent a mastectomy, sparked the attention of Gerry Schmitt, a Charlotte-area artist, writer, and breast-cancer survivor. “I hadn’t had a belly laugh since my surgery, until I saw that sculpture,” said Schmitt, who had a mastectomy last November. “To me, this sculpture was strong, daring—it was a visual pep talk, funny, and beautiful in its truthfulness. I felt like it was meant for me.”
|Fried's "Torso with Hands on Hips"|
Fox believes that Davidson provides ripe ground for not only an exhibition like RE/FORMATIONS, but for disability studies in general. She said, “This exhibition couldn’t have happened without Davidson being a visionary place. Davidson doesn’t ask what other people are doing, Davidson asks, ‘What should we be doing?’ Disability studies is all about asking who hasn’t spoken and who’s being spoken for. Davidson, being so open to intellectual investigation about social justice, is really receptive to these conversations.”
Fox continued, “The body is messy and freaky. Disability studies is about not running away from that. The body need not be vilified in any of its forms, in any of its fragility, in any of its fragmentation. If you understand the tyranny of normalcy, you can work to change it.”
Cooley concluded, “If art asks, ‘What is it to be human?’ then the fact that disability hasn’t been investigated fully in the visual arts or in the general culture is amazing. There are many, many disabled people who should have a say in the conversation about the meaning of being human, and we hope this exhibition will help them generate more discussion about it.”
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz