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Riva Lehr: Golem Girl

LaurenH's picture

This is going to be very scattered and unfinished thoughts, but I thought all were really interesting and would be good to share!

On friday, I attended the event with Riva Lehrer and talking about her Memoir Golem Girl. First, I must note that I loved her readings of the memoir. It felt so profound coming from her and I would love to read more about her memoir. I especially loved hearing how she tries to show medical students appreciation and turn the "freakdom" of viewing fetuses for their education into an experience to humanize and understand disability. It showed that teaching disability does not need to be particularly depressing, sad, or something that needs to be hidden. Rather, it seemed like a beautiful and profound process for the students. 

I also loved the metaphor of the golem. Riva explains the significance of the golem in stories, such as Pinocchio or Frankenstein, whereby a creature is created that is often unfinished. Often, this creature is seen as some sort of monster that needs to be fixed, but the golem finds their meaning, purpose, or love in their life.

I took a couple of screenshots of the transcript said by Riva that I thought were really interesting. will add later, but the screenshots weren't showing up.

"The issue is even when you do an image in whatever media of someone with a disability, if it's joyous or pensive or intellectual or whatever, the joy that is there is compensatory for the pain. So you know, if I'm happy in an image, it's because I'm overcoming my suffering. And that's just something that's so embedded. All you can do is try to manage it, but you know it's there."

"In both cases, I have tried really hard to make beauty central to what I do, not a prettiness, looking for what is authentic in disability beauty that I've thought a lot about. But in my book I have tried to as you might have caught in that reading, tried to weave through humor and history and the perspective of others and stepping out on a regular basis to look at my specific experience of disability versus what would probably be going on for other people."

"If you had a clearly disabled family member, they were not oging  to be seen as, unless there were really major reasons like they were the last one in their line or they happened to be, a lot of times the only images you get are people who are actually the king or queen because you couldn't avoid doing an image of them because that's who they were. So the artist would have a choice about how truthful to be. And that's completely fascinating. But for the most part, we don't show up in portraiture. We show up in figure painting which is a different thing entirely. figure paintings are not portraits. they are stories. They are like plays. And disabled people show up as most often in religious painting where we are suffering. And the mystical power of the religious figure...someone is being proved by transforming this suffereing. So you get lots of lepers and cripples and blind poeple. So cheering. But it's not about them. It's about jesus or the saint or you know. So this is what you and I were up against when we first started doing portraits that not only were they missing in that arena, what did exist was fairly horrible, and then there were freak show images and medical images...So the precedent was awful and I feel like I'm still struggling with how to represent us because I was very aware and still very aware when I was writing the book that I'm 62, almost 63. And what that means is that I grew up with intense internalized ableism, some internalized homophobia. But that I was more able to deal with and don't feel like I'm caring [about] the way that I'm still fighting against internalized ableism"