This episode of Unboxing the Canon introduces the topic of disability and the visual arts, looking at both historical and contemporary examples. We consider the near absence of visible disability in the history of Western art and discuss how some contemporary artists are representing disability in powerful ways. Beginning with Diego Velázquez’s 1656 painting Las Meninas, this episode examines it and other historical works through the ideas of contemporary artist, writer and disability activist, Riva Lehrer. Then we turn towards the work of Persimmon Blackbridge, a Canadian artist whose work touches on disability, institutionalization, censorship, and queer identity. We demystify the artist-genius myth and end with a brief discussion about how curatorial choices can make art more accessible.
Sources + further reading:
Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology, and Access to Life. “Persimmon Blackbridge.” https://bodiesintranslation.ca/persimmon-blackbridge/.
Diamond, Sara. “Still Sane.” Interview with Persimmon Blackbridge. Fuse Magazine, Fall 1984, 30-35. http://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/1844/1/Diamond_Sane_1984.pdf
“Las Meninas - The Collection - Museo Nacional Del Prado.” https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/las-meninas/9fdc7800-9ade-48b0-ab8b-edee94ea877f.
Lehrer, Riva. “Presence and Absence. The Paradox of Disability in Portraiture.” In Contemporary Art and Disability Studies, 185–202. New York: Routledge, 2019.
Riva Lehrer – website. https://www.rivalehrerart.com.
“Perejón, Buffoon of the Count of Benavente and of the Grand Duke of Alba - The Collection - Museo Nacional Del Prado.” https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/perejon-buffoon-of-the-count-of-benavente-and-of/724b1f54-4ea6-465e-9d49-fd2999884e4c.
Sandals, Leah. “8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Art and Disability.” Canadian Art. March 3, 2016. https://canadianart.ca/features/7-things-everyone-needs-to-know-about-art-disability/.
Schönwiese, Volker, and Petra Flieger. “The Painting of a Disabled Man from the 16th Century - a Participatory Action Research Project,” n.d., 44. http://bidok.uibk.ac.at/projekte/bildnis/bildnis-ambras/handout_san_francisco.pdf
Siebers, Tobin. “Disability aesthetics and the body beautiful: Signposts in the history of art.” Alter (4), vol 2, 2008, 329-336 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.alter.2008.08.002.
Stewart, Sophia. “Enough with the Ableist Worship of Frida Kahlo.” Hyperallergic, July 15, 2021. http://hyperallergic.com/662606/frida-and-my-left-leg-emily-black/.
Tangled Art + Disability. https://tangledarts.org/.
“Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y - The Collection - Museo Nacional Del Prado.” https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/artist/velazquez-diego-rodriguez-de-silva-y/434337e9-77e4-4597-a962-ef47304d930d?searchMeta=velazquez.
Wexler, Alice, and John K. Derby. Contemporary Art and Disability Studies. Routledge Advances in Art and Visual Studies. New York, NY: Routledge, 2020.
Jarolslav Jezek, Bugatti Step (1931). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jarolslav_Jezek_Orchestra_Bugatti_Step_1931.ogg
Robert Schumann. Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15 No. 3: Blind Man’s Buff, n.d. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_Schumann_-_scenes_from_childhood,_op._15_-_iii._blind_man%27s_buff.ogg.
Season 2 of Unboxing the Canon is produced by Professor Linda Steer for her course “Introduction to the History of Western Art” in the Department of Visual Arts at Brock University. Our sound designer, co-host and contributing researcher is Madeline Collins.
Brock University is located on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples, many of whom continue to live and work here today. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and is within the land protected by the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Agreement. Today this gathering place is home to many First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and acknowledging reminds us that our great standard of living is directly related to the resources and friendship of Indigenous people.
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