|Exhibition and Lecture on "Staring' Will Provide New Look at This Old Subject
October 26, 2009
Contact: Bill Giduz
Most children grow up regularly hearing that parental admonition, and it becomes an unquestioned life-long guide as familiar as "wash your hands" and "play nice."
But an art exhibition and upcoming event at Davidson College explore the complex action of the intent gaze, with hopes of helping people understand that "no" isn't the only way to look at it.
Certainly, staring can be rude. But it also has constructive possibilities, according to guest speaker Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, professor of women's studies at Emory University.
Garland-Thomson will be at Davidson on Thursday evening, October 29, for a public conversation with Davidson Professor of English Ann Fox entitled "Disability in Public." Garland-Thomson has recently been named one of Utne Reader's second annual list of "50 Visionaries" for her groundbreaking scholarship in disability studies, which has most recently been manifested in her 2009 Oxford University Press book Staring: How We Look.
There is no charge to attend their conversation, which will begin at 7 p.m. in the Semans Auditorium of the Belk Visual Arts Center. For more information, call 704-894-2575.
|(l-r) Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and Ann Fox pictured during last winter's RE/FORMATIONS exhibit opening
The event is being held in conjunction with a current Davidson art exhibition entitled STARING that is also based on Garland-Thomson's book. The exhibition, which is on display in the Belk Visual Arts Center through December 9, was co-curated by Fox and Assistant Gallery Curator Jessica Cooley.
The event will also feature a gallery talk at 8 p.m. from artist Doug Auld, creator of a half-dozen compelling large-scale portraits of burned young people that hang in the STARING exhibition. They are among 10 works Auld painted of adolescent burn survivors in a three-year project called "State of Grace."
In addition to Auld's portraits, the exhibition includes photographs and prints from the Davidson College Permanent Collection and some on loan from other galleries, all representing in some manner the subject of staring. There are photographs by Diane Arbus and Weegee, and portrait drawings by Chris Rush, who features disabled people in his work.
Davidson Professor Ann Fox noted that the burned subjects in Auld's portraits, all of whom stare intently at the viewer, represent the complexities of the act of staring. She said, "These paintings of people with scarred faces and bodies are very powerful and almost demand us to stare back to acknowledge the humanity and personhood of which the scars are part."
She continued, "Staring is culturally based, and in some cultures it's OK to stare. For us it can be intimate and threatening because we're taught not to stare. But staring in certain situations lets people consider their relationships to another person. It can teach us about what we look at and why. There's a real possibility of our own empowerment."
|Artist Doug Auld will speak at the opening about his portraits of burned people, including "Brian" pictured here.
Fox, who teaches disability studies classes at Davidson, has known Garland-Thomson since attending a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar on disability studies in 2000 that Garland-Thomson taught. Their friendship since that time led Garland-Thomson to come to Davidson last winter in connection with an art exhibition entitled RE/FORMATIONS that featured the work of artists with disabilities.
The new exhibition, STARING, relates to disability studies, since disabled people generally attract stares. But staring doesn't end there, Fox explained. "We all deal with people engaging us with their eyes. A stare can be an opportunity to look back and engage someone, to begin to understand someone. That's what so cool about Rosemarie's work. It's about disability, but it goes beyond that as well."
Garland-Thomson's book Staring: How We Look, cites examples from art, media, fashion, history and memoir to examine this curiously unexplored human action. She explores the factors that motivate it, the combination of factors that make it so irresistible, and shifts the usual "shame" response to staring into a deeper self-consideration.
She describes disabled people who act to avoid being victims of staring through self-conscious visible use of their disabilities. They include women who chose not to hide mastectomies with prosthetics or clothing, a man born without legs who travels the world taking photographs of people staring at him, and a comedian whose routine focuses on his facial difference.
Garland-Thomson has written and edited several other books. They include Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Literature and Culture (1997), Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities (2002), and Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body (NYU 1996). Her current book project concerns euthanasia in the Holocaust and through American literature.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 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.