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So Began My Obsession with Crip Art

kjmason's picture

 Day 15 “On Seeing (and not seeing) Disability." I was so excited to be given the opportunity look fully at disability, to stare. Not in a degrading way, but almost in wonder. Crip Art can possess a certain raw and vulnerable beauty that I haven’t been effected by as fully in other forms. As nice and politically correct as it would be to say Crip Art is just like other forms of art with “just people” as the subjects, it would be false. The disability adds to the art for me. I get a sense of strength, defiance and agency that is really striking to me.

So began my minor obsession with Crip Art.
In this “paper” I’m going to play a lot with format, altering between a more critical art analysis and the use of haikus to compact what each of the pieces does for me, as one audience.
The tension tight skin
       Rubber and metal sit tight
Transcending stillness
Though many people with physical disabilities find that they are robbed of being seen sexually by others, the man in this picture is clearly depicted as a sexual object. The overhead lighting that highlights the muscle definition in his back and arms emphasizes his strength and sexuality. His back to the camera, sitting with his legs hidden, draped over the back of his chair, his strength and sexuality become the center of the photo in a way that invites the audience to see him only as a sexual object. Also striking, is the way that gender is played with in this photo. The physical upper body of the subject is very male in shape (broad shoulders, narrowing into square hips) but the legs, though slightly hidden, can still be seen as a lot less muscular, limply hanging over the back of his chair. It’s interesting that Rasso Bruckert titled this “PERFECT/IMPERFECT” because of the different muscle density throughout this man’s body. The photo juxtaposes physical male perfection with physical male imperfection and comments on his disability as not only a physical one, but also a social one within the limitations of the idea of masculinity.
Hiding in brick shame
Genderized degradation
A monstered weak form
Menstruation as a disability. The central feature of the picture is the nose, it is by far the most monstrous and visually disjointing aspect of the picture. From there the eye travels downward (as the nose points) to her breasts, then finally, almost in after-thought to her hand that covers her darkened pelvic area. Throughout art history, the nose has been used consistently as a phallic representation. In theatre, comedia dell’arte incorporates the use of the nose as a phallic symbol in various characters to lend an idea of the character’s “manliness” to the audience. The huge nose in this picture is distortional and phallic. It lends to the fairly ironic but poignant notion that the subject’s menstruation (femininity) actually leads to her feeling like a monstrous, less-than-woman creature. This use of a phallic symbol to connote an absence of femininity is relevant to the idea that femininity and masculinity only exist as a struggle to be the other’s polar opposite. The sagging lines on her face, the drooping of her breasts, her baldness, large ears and rounded stomach all are contrary to what society finds ideally femininely beautiful. With this challenge to conventional beauty, the image of the subject as some sort of freak is driven in further. In this way this painting becomes less about menstruation/ femininity as a disability within itself, but within the society we live in.
Bending till breaking
virulent disjointing bone
weeded from the earth
Laura Ferguson in her collection, “The Visible Skelton Series” depicts her struggle with scoliosis and physical differentness. The x-ray view of the inner curvature of her spine from this view clearly delineates her differentness. It gives a picture to her specific disability. The nudity in the painting comes across as less of a sexualization, but more of a signifier for the vulnerability associated with disclosing a disability that can be hidden. This vulnerability is also echoed in the positioning of her body. Her back towards the viewer, bent over at the waist, the subject is almost in a fetal-type position. The colors used at the base of her spine lay bare her jumbled and contorted body parts. The way Ferguson employs the color red at the base of the spine hints to the pain and the atypical formation of the spine. The hair of the woman, laying down her back, blends into the top of the spine. This stands as an attempt to hide disability, but as the hair fails to hide her spinal curvature, Ferguson  speaks to the inability to hide disability in our visually based society. 
I plan on continuing to relate image and art to the topics we cover in this course and others courses I hope to take in the future. Through exploring this sort of representation of a topic that may have seemed flat to me otherwise, I definitely gained a more dimensional appreciation for Crip culture and the Cripping movement in art. The consistent vulnerability to judgments and debasement that these images portrayed helped me connect them to Gender and Sexualities studies in that anyone that varies, at all, from a preconceived societal norm is at risk to be degraded by others in their daily life. The strength expressed in some of these Crip Art pieces speaks to the strength found in anyone who lives divergently from societal norms. This connects back to "Enforcing Normalcy" by Lennard Davis. The juxtaposition of gender, sexuality and disability studies reminds me of a quote from Davis's essay: "Normalcy is constructed to create the 'problem' of the disabled person." In a more universal context, one can consider anyone tangential to the norm a socially 'disabled' person. The disability rights movement, though still struggling for completely equal representation, is a good model for activism needed to advance the LGBTQ rights agenda.