Zuly Sanguino

July 22, 2017 by richard

It’s been a difficult life for this 25-year-old who was born with no arms or legs and has been subjected to bullying, sexual abuse and even contemplated suicide.

But Zuly Sanguino has proven that she is bigger than those challenges and is now a successful public speaker hoping to inspire others to overcome the hurdles they face in life.

Zuly, who lives in Bogota, Colombia, says: ‘I don’t have any arms or legs, but I won’t let that hold me back.

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Inspirational:Zuly was born in Columbia with a rare condition called with Tetra-amelia syndrome, an extremely rare genetic condition that results in the limbs not developing properly in the womb

Zuly was born in Columbia with a rare condition called with Tetra-amelia syndrome, an extremely rare genetic condition that results in the limbs not developing properly in the womb

Learning to live: Zuly's mother taught her to do basic things like making the bed, brushing her teeth and changing clothes using her mouth and stumps to grip things

Big family: She is one of six but her three brothers and two sisters did not suffer from the condition

‘Growing up was hard and I was bullied at school. I was called an alien and it really hurt me. I went through some dark times and even contemplated suicide.

‘But my friends and family pulled me through and now I give motivational talks at businesses, prisons and schools.

‘I speak to children who are bullied, or have disabilities, to show them having physical or mental limitations doesn’t have to hold you back.

‘I want to show people you can do anything if you put your mind to it.’

Zuly was born in Columbia with a rare condition called with Tetra-amelia syndrome, an extremely rare genetic condition that results in the limbs not developing properly in the womb.

She is one of six but her three brothers and two sisters did not suffer from the condition.

School was very difficult for Zuly, who was subjected to a cruel campaign of bullying from a young age which forced her to change schools at six years old, yet the abuse continued.

She had to live without her father, who committed suicide when she was just two years old.

Video …
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDocVSUpq_Y
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFTX0vXz8II
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1ayNidg36s
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F66GOLfdcVY
Hard life: School was very difficult for Zuly, who was subjected to a cruel campaign of bullying from a young age which forced her to change schools at six years old, yet the abuse continued

Hard life: School was very difficult for Zuly, who was subjected to a cruel campaign of bullying from a young age which forced her to change schools at six years old, yet the abuse continued

Amazing woman: Her mother, Guillermina, has always been dedicated to helping her daughter live a normal life and convincing her she is capable of anything 

Amazing woman: Her mother, Guillermina, has always been dedicated to helping her daughter live a normal life and convincing her she is capable of anything

At 18, she went to art college and was later asked to join her local pastor on community visits and give talks

At 18, she went to art college and was later asked to join her local pastor on community visits and give talks

Zuly was also raped as a teenager, which later led her to the brink of suicide.

She said: ‘I started to realise I was different to other children aged six. Suddenly I noticed they could run and I couldn’t.

‘I asked Mum why I was different. She told me I was no more different than anybody else and my disability didn’t have to hold me back.

‘Children called me alien and hit me, sometimes they’d take my snacks. It was horrible.’

Things became so difficult that Zuly even contemplated suicide when she was 15 years old.

She said: ‘I’d go to sleep at night wishing I could just wake up and be like everyone else.

‘I felt ostracized at school and didn’t have any friends. I thought there was no hope for me. Mum tried to keep my spirits up but I felt so low.

‘I climbed up to the fourth floor of our building and was going to jump. Thankfully, mum came and found me just before I did.

‘She was so upset things had got so bad. She hugged me and told me everything would be alright.

‘She told me I would go on to shine and show other people you can live a normal, happy life with a disability.’

Family problems: She had to live without her father, who committed suicide when she was just two 

Family problems: She had to live without her father, who committed suicide when she was just two

Abuse: Zuly was also raped as a teenager, which later led her to the brink of suicide when she was 15

Abuse: Zuly was also raped as a teenager, which later led her to the brink of suicide when she was 15

Different: Zuly started to realise she was different to other children aged six because she noticed that they could run and she couldn't

Different: Zuly started to realise she was different to other children aged six because she noticed that they could run and she couldn’t

Important message: Her mother told her that she was no more different than anybody else and her disability didn't have to hold her back

Important message: Her mother told her that she was no more different than anybody else and her disability didn’t have to hold her back

The family faced another challenge in that Zuly’s father committed suicide when she was just two years old.

But her mother, Guillermina, has always been dedicated to helping her daughter live a normal life and convincing her she is capable of anything.

Guillermina works as an assistant and has worked hard to support the family in a country that provides no financial assistance to people with disabilities like Zuly.

Her mother has always been a source of inspiration, even from a young age when she had to learn simple tasks in a very different way to other children.

Zuly said: ‘At first people would carry me everywhere or I’d roll, but eventually I managed to stand up on my own and tried to walk by propping myself up with my stumps.

‘Mum taught me to do basic things like making the bed, brushing my teeth and changing clothes using my mouth and stumps to grip things.

‘She wanted me to do everything an able-bodied person can.’

Dark days: Children called Zuly an alien and hit her. Sometimes they would steal her lunch

Dark days: Children called Zuly an alien and hit her. Sometimes they would steal her lunch

Pep talk: Her mother, Guillermina, has always been dedicated to helping her daughter live a normal life and convincing her she is capable of anything

Pillar of support: Guillermina works as an assistant and has worked hard to support the family in a country that provides no financial assistance to people with disabilities like Zuly

Odd one out: Zuly looked different to her siblings as she posed for family photos

Odd one out: Zuly looked different to her siblings as she posed for family photos

After being at rock bottom aged 15, Zuly slowly started to rebuild her confidence, and her life, with the help of her mother.

At 18, she went to art college and was later asked to join her local pastor on community visits and give talks.

She now makes regular TV and radio appearances and her career helps her support herself and Guillermina, who she lives with on a ground floor apartment.

Zuly said: ‘I realized I’d spent too long letting my disability get me down and I had so much to live for.

‘Gradually, with mum’s support, I began to feel more positive and got involved with a local church, where the pastor asked me if I would like to join him on community visits as an inspirational speaker.

‘My first talk was speaking to 400 college students and parents about bullying in schools.

‘I was really nervous so Mum came with me for support. But half-way through I began to cry because it was so painful reliving what I’ve been through.

‘But everyone started clapping and it gave me the strength to keep going.

‘Afterwards I felt great. Knowing I’d turned my bad experiences into something good and was helping people was so rewarding.

‘It gives me so much happiness to know I’m helping people. One boy was about to take his own life with a gun when he saw a TV show I was on.

‘He realized he had to be brave and decided not to take his life. He wrote to me and we’re now really good friends. I get letters from lots of people who say I’ve helped them through difficult situations.

Helping people: She now gives inspirational speeches to try and help others. Here she is hugging a woman at one of her motivational talks in Bogota

Helping people: She now gives inspirational speeches to try and help others. Here she is hugging a woman at one of her motivational talks in Bogota

Teacher: Zuly taught these young people to paint with their mouths, just as she learnt to do

Teacher: Zuly taught these young people to paint with their mouths, just as she learnt to do

Great feeling: Zuly loves to know she can turn her bad experiences into something good that helps others and finds the work very rewarding

Great feeling: Zuly loves to know she can turn her bad experiences into something good that helps others and finds the work very rewarding

Earn a living: The motivational talks, radio and TV appearances in Columbia and paintings she sells help her make a living in a country that does not financially support disabled people

Earn a living: The motivational talks, radio and TV appearances in Columbia and paintings she sells help her make a living in a country that does not financially support disabled people

 ‘It’s difficult and money is tight. We make some money from the inspirational talks but not much. I also sell some of my paintings.’

As her confidence grew, Zuly also overcome the trauma of sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager and met her first boyfriend at 19.

She says: ‘He was able-bodied but very accepting of my disability and we were together for a year. We were able to have a sexual relationship. But I ended the relationship because he lacked ambition.

‘I dated another boy when I was 23 but it didn’t work out. I hope to get married and have children one day.

‘I’ve been told by doctors my condition won’t stop me being a mum. But for now I’m enjoying life and focusing on motivational speaking.’

Zuly – who lives with her mother in a ground-floor apartment – leads an active life and is like any other 25-year-old girl.

She says: ‘I can put make-up on using adjustable straps that hold my blusher and mascara in place.

‘I need a wheelchair for longer distances but I enjoy going out and socializing with my friends.’

Unfortunately, Zuly doesn’t get any financial help from the government and has to pay for everything herself.

As for the future, Zuly hopes to take her motivational speaking abroad and open an orphanage.

She says: ‘I’m proof you don’t have to let a disability hold you back. I went through such a dark time but now I’m in a good place and it’s given me a sense of purpose helping other people.’

A star is born: She now makes regular TV and radio appearances and her career helps her support herself and Guillermina, who she lives with on a ground floor apartment

A star is born: She now makes regular TV and radio appearances and her career helps her support herself and Guillermina, who she lives with on a ground floor apartment

Building her life: As her confidence grew, Zuly also overcome the trauma of sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager and met her first boyfriend at 19

Building her life: As her confidence grew, Zuly also overcome the trauma of sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager and met her first boyfriend at 19

Family support: Zuly still lives with her mother and stays in touch with her family. Here, her brother Zair helps her to the bus station

Family support: Zuly still lives with her mother and stays in touch with her family. Here, her brother Zair helps her to the bus station

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3177324/Woman-born-no-arms-legs-reveals-empowering-fight-against-bullies-abusers-suicidal-thoughts-inspiration-thousands-Colombia.html#ixzz4nYUR3ifB



Riva Lehrer, 1958–

July 12, 2017 by richard

https://3arts.org/artist/riva-lehrer/

Riva Lehrer (b. Cincinnati 1958). Artist, writer and curator, whose work focuses on issues of physical identity and the socially challenged body, especially in explorations of cultural depictions of disability.

Ms. Lehrer’s art work has been seen in venues including the United Nations, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, the Arnot Museum, the DeCordova Museum, the Frye Museum, the Smithsonian Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, the State of Illinois Museum, and the Elmhurst Museum.  She has been a visiting artist and lecturer across the US and Europe.

Her work has been featured in a number of documentaries, including the 2012 film “The Paper Mirror”, with graphic novelist Alison Bechdel,by Charissa King-O’Brien; the 2005 documentary “Self Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer” by David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder; “Variations” by Laurie Little and Anuradha Rana; and “Code of the Freaks” by Salome Chasnoff, Carrie Sandahl, and Susan Nussbaum (in progress).

Awards include the 2014 Mellon Residency Fellowship at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges; the 2015 Three Arts Residency Fellowship at the University of Illinois, the 2009 Prairie Fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation and 2009 the Critical Fierceness Grant, the 2008 Three Arts Foundation of Chicago grant for artistic achievement, and the 2006 Wynn Newhouse Award for Excellence, based in New York City, an unrestricted grant for $50,000.  Other awards include those from the Illinois Arts Council, the University of Illinois and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ms. Lehrer’s writing and visual art are included in numerous publications, including “Criptiques”, May Day Press, edited by Caitlin Wood, 2014, and “Sex and Disability”, Duke University Press, edited by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow, 2011.

Riva Lehrer is instructor in Medical Humanities at Northwestern University.



Healing Spas and Ugly Clubs: How Victorians Taught Us to Treat People With Disabilities

July 10, 2017 by richard

Healing Spas and Ugly Clubs: How Victorians Taught Us to Treat People With Disabilities

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/healing-spas-and-ugly-clubs-how-victorians-taught-us-to-treat-people-with-disabilities/

— July 21st, 2015

V0015876 Portrait of Oliver Caswell and Laura Bridgman reading emboss

In Netflix’s “Daredevil” series, a 2015 adaptation of a 1960s Marvel comic, flashbacks reveal that an accident blinding a boy also enhances his other four senses and gives him one more—radar location. That means the adult Matt Murdock can be a lawyer by day and a masked crime fighter by night, using his extra-sharp hearing, smelling, touch, and reflexes to brawl with villains he can’t see. In reality, a person with one impairment will have other talents and rely on different senses to navigate the world, but it’s never beyond the scope of natural human capacity. Disability scholars refer to such myths of super-human skills as a “fantasies of compensation,” which, like most of our popular beliefs about disability, come from the Victorian Era.

“Disability is a continuum, and it’s actually difficult to decide, legally, who is disabled and who is not.”

In fact, society didn’t have a concept of “lacking ability” until industrialization, which, by the 19th century, had created an obsessive demand for “able-bodied workers” who could rapidly churn out mountains of goods. Unfortunately, in the 1800s the sciences of biology and medicine hadn’t kept pace with advances in mechanical technology, so one infection or unfortunate encounter with a factory machine could lead to invalidism, loss of a limb, or early death. As people with disabilities became more visible and regarded as problematic, able-bodied citizens started to feel compassion for what they perceived as tragic lives. What to do with all these “unproductive” bodies?

Everyone had different ideas. Social reformers in the 19th century attempted to “normalize” people with disabilities through rehabilitation, education, and discreet new prosthetics. Inventors created all sorts of bizarre quack devices to help people “overcome” their disabilities. Certain educators even waged a war against sign language to force deaf people to learn how to speak like regular folk. Darwin-inspired eugenicists supported sterilizing anyone thought to have inherited undesirable traits, which physiognomists asserted could be read on one’s face or body. Many people with obvious physical disabilities and deformities still made a living by being gawked at and mocked in freak shows, while men with deformities but deep pockets raised their own esteem by joining Ugly Clubs, even as cities were starting to pass “ugly laws” against “unsightly beggars.”

Top: An 1844 portrait of Oliver Caswell and Laura Bridgman, the first blind and deaf person educated at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Massachusetts. (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, courtesy of the Wellcome Library) Above: An early wheelchair, known as a "Bath chair," at the St John's Museum Store, Bath. (Via WikiCommons)

Before industrialization, British scholar Lennard J. Davis asserts in his book, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body, people with disabilities were an integrated part of their community, though subjected to regular ridicule. For example, according to Davis, in ancient Greece, people with physical or mental impairments were likely to be given tasks suited to their unique abilities or that accommodated their slower pace. So-called freak shows got their start in medieval Europe, where men with hunchbacks, dwarfism, or other physical or mental disabilities, who were considered “natural fools,” were hired to create comedy routines that played up their differences; some eventually became trusted advisors to royalty as court jesters. Even in the 18th century, it was socially acceptable to point and laugh at a person who looked or moved in an obviously different way.

When capitalism exploded in the 19th century, it created a middle class obsessed with “normalcy,” and as industrialization spread, Western society put an emphasis on the body as a means of production and productivity as a means to citizenship. Then, having a disability was seen as more sad than funny. Men who couldn’t work were thought to have more in common with women, while disabled women had a harder time fulfilling their gender role of getting married and having children.

“Preindustrial societies tended to treat people with impairments as part of the social fabric, although admittedly not kindly,” Davis writes, “while postindustrial societies, instituting ‘kindness,’ ended up segregating and ostracizing such individuals through the discursivity of disability.”

In Edgar Allan Poe's 1849 short story "Hop-Frog," the titular little person, a king's "natural fool" with disabled legs, falls in love with a beautiful little person named Trippetta and seeks revenge against the royals for abusing her. Arthur Rackham drew this illustration in 1935. (Via WikiCommons)

In her new book, The Measure of Manliness: Disability and Masculinity in the Mid-Victorian Novel, Karen Bourrier—who is also the project director of the fascinating web site “Nineteenth-Century Disability: Cultures and Contexts”—explores how men with disabilities were portrayed in the literature of the era. While these characters lacked the ability to be “strong men of industry,” their perceived weakness was thought to give them incredible insight.

“An Ugly Club member would be an object of ridicule on the streets, but a superstar within the sanctum of the club.”

“When I started reading Victorian novels about disability, I noticed a strong masculinity that would be able to take up the challenges of industry was a priority,” says Bourrier, who is an assistant professor of English at the University of Calgary. “But often the life story of the strong, self-made man is told through the perspective of a ‘weak’ or disabled male character to soften the contours of that kind of industrial masculinity. Often a character with a clubfoot or a hunchback has this terrible experience growing up. I’m thinking about Philip Wakem in The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, for example. It makes them feel excluded from society, but then, therefore, they’re more sensitive to other’s pain. That’s an idea that makes a lot of sense to us these days, but it was a switch from the 18th century when people might have viewed disability as just humorous.

“In the Victorian novel, a person with a disability often has all of these powers of observation, as a privileged spectator who can’t participate in other arenas of life,” she continues. “Disability study scholars call that a ‘fantasy of compensation,’ a stereotype that’s worrisome and pernicious. Literary critics of the era did ponder, ‘Why is there this saintly figure who’s directing the whole household from the couch and has special insight that seems to stem from his or her disability?’”

In Charles Dickens' "Dombey and Son," published between 1846 and 1848, Mrs. Skewton, seated in a three-wheeled chair, is greeted by a gentleman who tips his hat to her. (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, scan by Philip V. Allingham, Victorian Web)

The disabled spinster cliché also comes up quite often in Victorian literature, but sometimes, Bourrier explains, the woman actually enjoys being released from her gender role, like in Dinah Craik’s novel, Olive. “In it, a woman is able to become an artist because she has a spinal deformity,” she says. “She figures she’ll never get married and may as well pursue her art.”

While Victorians didn’t use the term “disability”—they would use terms now considered offensive like “handicapped” or “crippled”—they applied a marginalizing “other” status to people with a wide variety of conditions, including blindness, deafness, invalidism, paraplegia, dwarfism, amputated limbs, mental retardation, undiagnosed autism, psychosis, clubfoot, and facial and spinal deformities. This is, in part, Davis explains, because the new science of statistics gave the average body real physical dimensions, and early Victorian culture celebrated the middle—a place where modesty and moderation indicated good morals and work ethic.

If a person didn’t possess the physical or mental ability to be a productive worker, they were seen as defective. That defectiveness was also thought to affect their character, sometimes poorly and sometimes positively, as Bourrier explores in The Measure of Manliness. Because physical appearance was believed to reveal a person’s moral compass and chances at success, even deformities that didn’t affect one’s ability to work were also seen as problems to be corrected.

In 1887's "Animal Locomotion: An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements," photographer Eadweard Muybridge shows people with disabilities, such as this crawling child, in motion. (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London)

According to “Nineteenth-Century Disability,” the Victorian era laid the groundwork for a belief system still operating today known as the “medical model of disability,” which “sees disability as a personal tragedy that needs to be fixed or overcome through medical intervention.” Seeing disability through a tragic lens, however, sparked interest in the experiences of people with disabilities and made them more visible in the 1800s.

“An industrial mentality saw workers as interchangeable and therefore sought to create a universal worker whose physical characteristics would be uniform.”

“The 19th century was the first to portray disability as the cause of individual suffering, and many disabled persons expressed their lived experiences in writing or art,” says Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi, a researcher who contributes to “Nineteenth-Century Disability,” in an interview via email. “Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was deaf since childhood and an invalid for a few years; she shared her experiences in several essays, including her ‘Letter for the Deaf,’ in which she suggests conquering the ‘struggle’ over the constraints of deafness required first acknowledging the limitations of a deaf person’s social surrounding. British missionary John Kitto (1804-1852), deaf since age 12, was self-educated and wrote several books on religion and his travel experiences. American painter William Dunlap (1776-1839) painted a series of self-portraits depicting the permanent blindness in his right eye.”

As people with disabilities started telling their stories in the public arena, they also were photographed in ways that suggests their disabilities were crucial to their identity, explains Virdi-Dhesi, who has a doctorate in the history of science from the University of Toronto.

A 1786 mezzotint of James Hutton, a Moravian minister and bookseller, showing him using his ear trumpet, by J.R. Smith after R. Cosway. (Via The Science Museum in South Kensington, U.K.)

“Disabled persons were captured in photographs with the objects of their disability clearly presented,” she says. “Scottish geologist James Hutton (1726-1797) is depicted in a mezzotint holding an ear trumpet to his ear. A black-and-white photograph of Elizabeth Margaretta Maria Gilbert (1826-1885), the founder of the Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind, shows her wearing a cape and shaded glasses. And amateur painter William Agnew (1846-1941), who was born deaf and mute, painted several scenes illustrating Queen Victoria conversing in sign language with a subject. These examples push forth the notion that disability in the 19th century was not always perceived negatively, to be hidden, or as though disabled persons were living in misery.”

Ear trumpets were among the myriad inventions that came out of the persistent belief that, even with the help of political or social institutions, it was the disabled individual’s responsibility to strive to become more “normal.”

“Having lost my hearing at age 4 following a serious bout of meningitis, my childhood was marked by my family’s attempts to cure my hearing loss,” Virdi-Dhesi says of growing up in the late 1980s and 1990s. “I recall the painful scent of burning chili peppers as a move to ward off the ‘evil eye,’ scores of visits to the temple for blessings, the chafing of copper bracelets possessing powers to extract the ‘disease.’ Among these attempts were visits to the ENT clinic, feelings of failure following hearing tests, the weight of hearing aids, and special speech lessons. Reading 19th-century medical case studies of all the attempts invoked to ‘cure’ a person of their hearing loss resonated through the passages of time and connects with me. I can sympathize with the patients, but I also understand the need for a ‘cure’ that was so tirelessly advocated by medical practitioners.”

The Hall Braille-writer was the first successful and widely used mechanical Braille-writer. (Via Antique Typewriters: The Martin Howard Collection)

On the plus side, useful Victorian inventions such as Braille, wheelchairs, typewriters, phonographs, and advancements in prosthetics offered people with disabilities more mobility, autonomy, and access to education.

“Braille was invented in the 19th century, and the phonograph, invented by Edison in 1877, gave the blind a way to listen to books and be more independent, even though it was not necessarily made for them,” Bourrier says. “The typewriter also became commercialized, in the 1860s and 1870s, so you could write a letter if you were blind. There were huge improvements in prosthetics, in part due to the Civil War in the U.S. Apparently, prosthetic eyes also weren’t very convincing before the mid-19th century, but they got a lot better, and that helped people who’d lost an eye become less stigmatized.”

Inventors also came up with many aids to hearing by studying the anatomy of the ear and exploring scientific principles of acoustics, Virdi-Dhesi says. “Some of them were brilliantly constructed, even designed to be camouflaged as ordinary furniture or hidden on the person,” she says. “There was an ‘acoustic headband,’ with a porcelain flower painted white and blue, and a hidden ear trumpet beneath the flower—it was designed to be disguised in a woman’s bouffant hairdo. There are ear trumpets designed as walking canes, so a gentleman could simply bring the cane up to his ear when he needed to. Most trumpets and aids were pretty standard in the 19th century—designed to increase hearing amplification through funnels, but the shape and weight of these aids depended on the user, as did their degree of success. A person with moderate hearing loss, for instance, could have their hearing increased by 20 dB with the use of a bell-shaped trumpet.”

A Victorian hearing trumpet swathed in black fabric and lace. (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London)

But this push toward “normalization” also created what disability scholars call the “overcoming narrative,” which puts undue pressure on people with disabilities to excel despite their impediments.

“Often the life story of the strong, self-made man is told through the perspective of a ‘weak’ or disabled male character.”

“Simply put, the ‘overcoming narrative’ is this cultural idea that a person must overcome any limitations that set them back or prevent them from achieving success,” Virdi-Dhesi says. “For the most part, this requires ‘masking’ the disability to appear as ‘normal’ as possible, or managing to do ‘normal’ things in order to ‘fit in’ with the rest of society. For deaf persons, this means to adopt technologies that allow them to hear, or to learn how to lip-read and articulate sounds, rather than using sign language, which draws attention to their status as a deafened person. For individuals with amputated limbs, this requires the use of prostheses to camouflage their disability, especially the use of prostheses that enables them to do ordinary things, such as use a fork, tie a shoelace, and so on.”

Quack doctors in the 19th century also subjected disabled people to plenty of inventions that just didn’t work, particularly devices that used new technology such as violet rays, electricity, and vibrations as well as strange orthopedic apparatuses and patent medicines that promised miraculous cures.

“The closing years of the 19th century and the early 20th century introduced a tremendous amount of interesting and quackish hearing devices, such as the artificial eardrums, tiny devices made of metal or rubber and inserted into the ear to increase residual hearing,” Virdi-Dhesi says. “Many of these devices were experiments with the new marvel of electricity. Galvanism was a well-known remedy in cases of deafness that were diagnosed as paralysis of the auditory nerves; treatments required applying electricity to the ear in order to simulate ‘dead’ ear muscles.

In 1905, Dr. Guy Clifford Powell, of Peoria, Illinois invented and marketed a device he called the Electro-Vibratory Cure for Deafness. (Via JaIVirdi.com)

“Similar principles were governed in the Electro-Vibratory Cure for Deafness, a device invented and marketed by Dr. Guy Clifford Powell of Illinois in 1905,” she continues. “The apparatus apparently cured a patient of deafness by pumping air through the ears via cotton-covered electrodes soaked in salt water. After pumping in air, a jolt of electricity generated by the solenoid coils is sent to the patient’s head. Two Electro-Magneto Storage Cells batteries were placed inside the top cover. Several patented devices made use of violet-ray therapy, believing that ultraviolet rays could cure damages in the ear or ‘build-ups of calcium.’ Vibrating therapy was a popular design for apparatuses to cure deafness; some were advertised as ‘tissue oscillators.’ The rare battery-powered Violin Vibraphone—which used sound frequencies to stimulate ‘frozen’ inner-ear ossicles—is perhaps the strangest instrument I’ve ever come across!”

“Freak shows seem to be a way for communities to define who’s normal and who’s not, and assert those values in a troublesome manner.”

For deaf people in particular, the drive for normalization also held them back. Sign language, which Western societies developed in the early 18th century, helped deaf children communicate with their hearing family and friends, who may have never tried to communicate with deaf people before, Bourrier explains. But in the 19th century, American telephone-inventor Alexander Graham Bell led a movement to force deaf persons to give up sign language, which he insisted wasn’t a language, and learn how to speak, controlling the shape and volume of the sounds they made. He believed that “this capacity to speak is what makes you human and separates you from the animals,” Bourrier says. “These pernicious arguments made things worse for the deaf in the 19th century.”

In her research, Virdi-Dhesi has looked into why this cultural shift happened. “While the 18th century and first half of the 19th century was marked with a steady increase in the popularization of sign language as a mode for communication with the deaf, and the establishment of residential schools for the deaf, things changed after the 1850s,” she says. “As deaf persons from across America became integrated into a ‘Deaf culture,’ with a common language and community, they no longer felt isolated. Organizations, employment, events, and even newspapers for the deaf were created, further solidifying a sense of belonging and community. However, as Deaf identity and culture was coming into fruition, the deaf were in danger of being isolated from another vision of America. In her book, Words Made Flesh, R.A.R. Edwards shows how education outlined on the Prussian model of practicality and efficiency was believed to be the cure for all of America’s problems, from poverty and crime to disease, and ignorance. Tying Americans under a common culture would unify the country under the same nationalistic banner. And that included the Deaf, who had to learn English, rather than sign language, and share in the same oral culture.”

A postcard print of William Agnew's popular 1889 painting shows Queen Victoria using sign language to communicate with a deaf woman. The queen sided with the manualists even after sign language was banned from schools. (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, courtesy of Wellcome Images)

This led to a “war” between sign-language advocates, known as “manualists,” and the “oralists,” who pushed for speech and articulation. “By the 1870s, this shift additionally coincided with newer scientific theories, especially Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection—signing was reminiscent of ‘ape-like’ behavior, crude and below the parameters of human reason,” Virdi-Dhesi says. “Fierce debates amongst educators for the deaf questioned the value of sign-language: Was it beneficial for introducing the deaf-mutes to ideas of the world, giving them tools for constructing knowledge and understanding in order to assimilate themselves into ‘normal’ society? Or was it isolating them from the common culture by creating a sense of comfort incomprehensible by others? Oralists rejected sign language as primitive and argued that sign language should be removed from all schools and replaced by emergent sound and writing technologies, in order to teach deaf students to speak and understand English.”

“An ‘acoustic headband’ was designed to disguise an ear trumpet in a woman’s bouffant hairdo.”

In 1880, educators from around the world came together in Milan, Italy, for the second International Congress on Education of the Deaf where they debated a resolution on banning sign language in schools and replacing it with oral instruction. “Even though sign language and its earlier variations of ‘finger-spelling’ were used since the 1600s, delegates voted to ban sign language as a mode of instruction,” Virdi-Dhesi says. “A historic event, the ban had a significant impact on the education and culture of the deaf. It was devastating. Deaf teachers lost their jobs to hearing teachers for the deaf. Sign-language instruction was forbidden. And as historians have shown, the congress was biased from the start, as more than half of its delegates were well-known oralists; furthermore, out of 164 delegates, only one person was deaf. Almost all deaf schools used the oral method by 1920. Even as sign language was banned in classrooms, it still flourished in communities and was supported by the National Association of the Deaf. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that sign language returned to the classroom.”

For people with physical deformities, some of the medical interventions to normalize people put them in danger, too. “There was a group of doctors starting in the 1830s in France and in Germany who decided that they were going to start operating on ‘orthopedic deformities,’ which they defined as any and every asymmetry in the human body,” Bourrier says. “So it could have been like a clubfoot or a harelip or a spinal problem, all these deformities that may not necessarily have been causing people all that many problems. In some cases, the surgery actually caused more harm than good. The idea was that they were going to operate by splitting the tendons and straightening them out, but it was risky to operate before the development of antisepsis in the end of the 19th century. People would get gangrene sometimes, and the surgeries weren’t all that successful.”

Orthopedic medicine began as a practice of child rearing in France, thanks to Nicolas Andry’s 1741 book "Orthopaedia," translated into English in 1743. In the mid-19th century, orthopedic medicine became a specialized branch of surgery that aimed to correct asymmetries in the human frame. (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, courtesy of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine)

The emphasis on looking normal also fed into pseudo-sciences like physiognomy and phrenology, which, respectively, associated types of facial features and skull measurements with moral character and criminality.

“It is not the person with a disability who is defective, but the society that builds the world around one standard kind of body.”

“Phrenologists reinforced the medicalization of disability, the idea that disability was a medical problem that could be solved through the application of science and invasive treatments,” Virdi-Dhesi says. “Concerned with the functions of the brain, phrenologists believed that the shape of an individual skull can reveal the person’s morality, personality, and other intellectual characteristics, as placed on their brain. As the founder of phrenology, Franz Joseph Gall believed one’s madness, criminal nature, or moral deviance could thus be ‘read.’ More so, phrenologists argued that the shape of the cranium was correlated to one’s intelligence, and certain races had differently shaped craniums, thus accounting for their lower position on the hierarchy of race supremacy. The idea of brain localization was a powerful science and used to justify an abundance of discriminatory atrocities against disabled persons.”

British statistician Sir Francis Galton first pushed to establish the normal or average body as ideal. He also employed a method of composite photography to layer images of different faces on top of one another to determine the average face. His goal was to deduce physiognomic traits that would reveal a person’s state of health or criminal tendencies. But after Galton read 1859’s On the Origin of the Species,by his half-cousin Charles Darwin, Galton began to reject averageness or mediocrity in favor of the survival of the fittest. He developed a science about perfecting the human race, known as eugenics, in 1883.

Phrenologists believed the shape of one's skull could determine "Philoprogenitiveness," or one's capacity for parental love. (Via Special Collections and Rare Books, University of Missouri Library)

In eugenics, the most average traits were no longer the most desirable; instead, one extreme, like tallness or high intelligence, would be the most ideal and the other extreme, like shortness or low intelligence, the least. Since evolution theory posited that such traits are hereditary, eugenicists pushed to sterilize or prevent those with unwanted characteristics from having children. (Eugenics remained a well-respected science in the United States and Europe until the 1930s when Adolf Hitler adopted it for a campaign of genocide.)

“Treatment included the use of domestic rituals, such as tea parties and gardening, in order to reinforce social norms of good manners.”

During the late 19th century, “eugenics became obsessed with the elimination of ‘defectives,’ a category which included the ‘feebleminded,’ the deaf, the blind, the physically defective, and so on,” Davis writes, explaining that “fitness” became a national concern in Great Britain. “If individual citizens are not fit, if they do not fit into the nation, then the national body will not be fit … as if a hunchbacked citizenry would make a hunchbacked nation. … This belief combined with an industrial mentality that saw workers as interchangeable and therefore sought to create a universal worker whose physical characteristics would be uniform. … One of the central foci of eugenics was what was broadly called ‘feeblemindedness.’ The term included low intelligence, mental illness, and even ‘pauperism,’ since low income was equated with ‘relative inefficiency.’ Likewise, certain ethnic groups were associated with feeblemindedness and pauperism.”

The idea that you could read someone’s character by reading their body played out in literature, too. “In addition to the sympathetic view of disability, which is the one I concentrate more on in my book, in the Victorian novel, a physical deformity can be a shorthand for a villain,” Bourrier says. “Quilp, the hunchback dwarf in Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, or Silas Wegg, who has a peg leg in Our Mutual Friend, would be good examples of someone who’s seen as villainous because of his disability. I think that comes from 19th-century theater, because it was a quick visual to suggest this person is evil.”

Harold Copping's 1924 illustration for Charles Dickens' "Our Mutual Friend," written 1864-'65, shows Mr. Boffin addressing Silas Wegg, who keeps his foot warm in a basket. (Via Victorian Web)

In fact, the term “degenerate,” meaning an immoral person, comes from the idea that evolution could go in reverse, so that a criminal’s corruption would manifest in his body in some way. “People like Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso started taking photographs of criminals to see if they were degenerating physically,” Bourrier says. “Because if Darwin had proved that we could evolve forward, maybe we could go backward as well. Again, it’s this terrible idea that who you were was marked on your body and could be legible to people in some way.”

“Disability in the 19th century was not always perceived negatively, to be hidden, or as though disabled persons were living in misery.”

While eugenicists promoted sterilization, more compassionate social reformers and philanthropists put their energy into making people with disabilities productive members of society. “The nineteenth century was an age when people self-consciously boasted about philanthropy,” Virdi-Dhesi says. “Charities became popular avenues for the lay public to demonstrate their moral and social values as a way of contributing to national responsibility. Many institutions were directed toward the goal of ‘normalizing’ defective or disabled bodies, in order to eventually integrate them into society as productive citizens, or else isolate them within secured gates. These institutions were based on the predilection that there existed a clear boundary between the ‘normal’ and the ‘pathological.’ Medicine was directed toward dealing with the body, whereas ‘moral therapy’ was directed toward dealing with the mind.

“Institutions for the deaf in Britain emerged as part of a wider evangelical movement for social reform,” she continues. “Beginning with John Townsend’s Asylum for the Support and Education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor (informally, the Bermondsey Asylum) in 1792, residential institutions for the deaf grew exponentially. These institutions claimed that the deaf were capable of communication, and thus, worthy of education, and were driven by a missionary zeal that constructed education as a charitable enterprise. Relying upon private benevolence and public donations, these institutions advocated intellectual development, religious instruction, and material well-being, directed toward protecting the deaf until they were trained to venture or assimilate into society.”

The lithography frontispiece of "Ben Rhydding: The Principles of Hydropathy and the Compressed-Air Bath (1858)" shows the Ben Rhydding spa where Victorians sought the "water cure" for various ailments. This cure involved taking baths, having steams, and drinking loads of mineral water. (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, WikiCommons)

Then, as now, the level of comfort and access to new technology a person with a disability experienced depended on his or her wealth. Those with physical or mental impairments in the higher classes were whisked away to elegant country institutions that resembled spas or vacation resorts. Some of these places, like J. Langdon Down’s Earlswood Asylum, which specialized in Down’s syndrome care, offered education or at least basic literacy. But if you were impoverished and mentally ill, you often got locked up in a brutal asylum that was more like a jail.

“Institutions for the ‘mad’ offered a sense of care that left individuals in a comfortable and accommodating space in order to allow their bodies to recover,” Virdi-Dhesi says. “Most of these institutions were privately managed and for the wealthy. Treatment included the use of domestic rituals, such as tea parties and gardening, in order to reinforce social norms of good manners. The Royal Hospital for Incurables was one such private charitable institution, offering treatment for both the disabled and those with long-term illnesses. The Holloway Sanatorium was another ‘resort’ for rest and recovery for caring for the middle-class insane. But madhouses such as London’s Bethlem Hospital, the York Asylum, or the Brookwood Asylum create a more sinister picture of institutionalized care for mental illnesses: They were dumping grounds for unmanageable family members or workhouse employees, for hysterical women, for violent and mad persons. These people were subjected to invasive and horrendous medical treatments, confined into hydrobaths, chained to walls or beds, and otherwise restrained.”

Joseph Carey Merrick, a.k.a. "The Elephant Man." (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, WikiCommons)

A person who was impoverished and obviously disabled but not seen as threatening might end up begging or selling shoelaces on the street. But there was another way to survive: As much as Victorians saw themselves as enlightened by progress, science, and social reform, they still paid to gawk at people they found strange at freak shows. Steam-powered trains and ships guided by improved navigation systems were allowing Western adventurers and scientists to explore the previously unknown parts of the world. People were excited to gather natural wonders and marvels as well as travel souvenirs for their personal cabinets of curiosities. World’s Fairs celebrated the achievements of industry and design and brought diverse cultures together. But the shadow side of all this earnest curiosity is the fact that humans, particularly dark-skinned Africans, were regularly kept like animals at zoos in Paris, Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Milan, Warsaw, and New York at the same time other Africans were kidnapped, shipped to the American South, and treated as beasts of burden at slave plantations. The people who were visibly disabled or disfigured provoked the same sort of rubbernecking intrigue as people with dark-pigmented skin.

“Spearheaded with a rising interest in biology and classification, people became curious about physical and organic differences between humans and animals,” Virdi-Dhesi says. “Deaf persons were certainly perceived as cause célèbres, as theatrical spectacles. Some persons with disabilities found success by acknowledging, and showcasing, their disability or deformity. Joseph Carey Merrick, known widely as the ‘Elephant Man’ supported himself by joining traveling freak shows and displaying his deformity. He became a celebrity and received the support of rich benefactors later in his life, but they still required him to display his deformities. For many, these shows were preferable to begging and becoming destitute.”

Conjoined twins Millie and Christine McKoy, pictured in the 1890s, were born into slavery in North Carolina in 1851 and sold by their owner to a showman for $1,000. (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, WikiCommons)

But freak shows also contributed to harmful social constructions about who’s an outsider to be ogled, involving racism and sexism as much as ableism. Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, also known as “the Hottentot Venus,” was a black able-bodied woman who was sexualized in freak shows for her large posterior. “Such shows seem to be a way for communities to define who’s normal and who’s not, and assert those values in a troublesome manner,” Bourrier says. “Blind Tom, who was black, blind, and probably autistic but a piano prodigy, was exhibited in a freak show.”

However, if a white man who had a physical deformity or who just wasn’t conventionally attractive had enough money and power, he could achieve a certain amount clout by joining a type of fraternal organization known as an Ugly Club. “The first person who wrote a memoir of being physically disabled was a member of Parliament called William Hay, who had a hunchback,” Bourrier says. “In 1754’s ‘Deformity: An Essay,’ he talks about being hooted at on the street and Ugly Clubs were sort of a response to that. They survived throughout the 19th century. It does bring up the idea that disability is a continuum, and it’s actually difficult to decide, legally, who is disabled and who is not.”

Ugly Clubs rejected the dogma of physiognomy, which said facial features revealed one’s character. “The Ugly Face Clubs, gentlemen’s clubs whose members prided themselves on their facial eccentricities, are a perfect example for how deformity was juxtaposed with social exclusion: a member would be an object of ridicule on the streets, but a superstar within the sanctum of the club,” Virdi-Dhesi says.

From an advertisement for an Ugly Face Club anniversary celebration (1806) reprinted with the frontispiece in Edward Howell’s edition of "Ye Ugly Face Clubb, Leverpoole, 1743-1753" (Liverpool, 1912). (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, courtesy of Gretchen E. Henderson)

However these clubs did perpetuate the stigma that equated disability with ugliness, which eventually pushed disabled people out of public spaces. In the late 19th century, cities and towns around the United States passed laws banning “unsightly beggars.” In The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public, Susan M. Schweik investigated how such laws criminalized people with disabilities.

These laws stayed on the books until the 1970s, when lawmakers started to relent to pressure from the disability rights movement, which rose in the 1960s along with the civil rights, gay rights, and women’s liberation movements. Disability rights activists campaigned to replace what they identified as the medical model of disability with a new “social model of disability” which, according to “Nineteenth-Century Disability,” “argues that it is not the person with a disability who is defective, but the society that stigmatizes physical difference and builds the world around one standard kind of body.”

It wasn’t until 1990 that the Americans with Disabilities Act, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate based on disability, was signed into law in the United States. The law—which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month—requires schools, businesses, and public buildings to install accommodations such as wheelchair ramps, wheelchair-accessible door handles and restrooms, and Braille signage. Television programs, for example, are obligated to provide captioning for the hearing impaired. For the first time, American society was forced to change, as opposed to the people with disabilities shouldering the burden of adapting.

Alexander Graham Bell and Clarence J. Blake's ear phonautograph incorporated an actual human ear, taken from a corpse, into machinery designed to draw shapes based on a deaf student's vocalizations. The phonautograph inspired Bell to invent the telephone. The image comes from Count du Marcel's 1879 book, "The Telephone, the Microphone and the Phonograph." (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, via <a href="https://archive.org/details/telephonemicrop00moncgoog">Archive.org</a>)

“The Americans with Disabilities Act is an enormous improvement for people with disabilities,” Bourrier says. “And medical technology has done a lot to improve the lives of people with disabilities in the 20th and 21st centuries. But I also think that in some ways, because the Victorians lived with so much disability, they might have had a more fluid and compassionate understanding of it. Today, if we’re able-bodied, we tend to think of disability as something that will never happen to us. But the truth is we’re all, scarily enough, one car accident away from becoming disabled. Victorians might have had a better understanding of the fragility of the body.”

“Phrenology was used to justify an abundance of discriminatory atrocities against disabled persons.”

Today, as it was then, money determines whether, say, a double amputee ends up using a skateboard to beg on the street or has access to the most advanced motorized wheelchairs or prosthetics. And we still celebrate narratives of overcoming and compensation—think of any sports drama like “The Karate Kid,” in which the title character goes on to win the karate tournament in spite of a seriously injuring his foot. Politicians that promote the idea of “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” are eager to cut public funding for disability checks and health care, because any challenge can be overcome with a can-do spirit, right? According to compensation stories like “Daredevil,” you might even have special powers that give you an advantage.

“We still have the overcoming and compensation narratives today, and they aren’t very helpful,” Bourrier says. “The more you look at the Victorian era in the present day, the more you see the way we regard people with disabilities today is not that different. What’s so interesting about the Americans with Disabilities Act is that it gives disability rights to people who have all sorts of conditions—like morbid obesity, clinical depression, ulcerative colitis, work injuries, or heart disease—that we wouldn’t necessarily traditionally see as a disability. It’s anything that impairs your day-to-day life. Most people eventually have a condition like that.”

An artificial left leg with a thigh socket for amputation above the knee, circa 1920. (Via Nineteenth-Century Disability, courtesy of Wellcome Library, London)

(Learn more at “Nineteenth-Century Disability: Cultures and Contexts.” For further reading, pick up Karen Bourrier’s new book “The Measure of Manliness: Disability and Masculinity in the Mid-Victorian Novel”; Lennard Davis’ book “Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body”; Susan M. Schweik’s book “The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public”; and R.A.R Edwards’ book “Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture.” Explore the history of medicine at the Wellcome Library’s web site.)



A short history of mental illness in art From Hogarth to Van Gogh, art has challenged our understanding of mental illness. Jonathan Jones’ shares his top ten for our mental health appeal

by richard

A short history of mental illness in art

From Hogarth to Van Gogh, art has challenged our understanding of mental illness. Jonathan Jones’ shares his top ten for our mental health appeal

'Vincent’s eyes are crystal blue, his gaze acute and penetrating. He is neither “sane” nor “insane” but a fellow human being who speaks to us with courage and honesty.' Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, by Vincent van Gogh, 1889.
 ‘Vincent’s eyes are crystal blue, his gaze acute and penetrating. He is neither “sane” nor “insane” but a fellow human being who speaks to us with courage and honesty.’ Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, by Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Photograph: Peter Barritt/Getty Images/SuperStock RM

Art has led the way in seeing mental illness not as alien or contemptible but part of the human condition – even as a positive and useful experience. Modern art has even celebrated mental suffering as a creative adventure. This psychiatric modernism started with the “madness” of Vincent van Gogh and led to work by patients being discovered as a new kind of art. Yet it has much deeper historical roots. Albrecht Durer portrayed genius as melancholic as early as the Renaissance and Romantic painters identified with the “mad”.

Perhaps it is not hard to see why artists often show empathy for what society calls illness: all creativity is an irrational voyage. The idea of going outside yourself to see things afresh is probably as old as the torchlit visions of cave artists and was expressed by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato when he wrote that poetic ecstasy is the only source of divine truth. “Madness is a gift from the gods”, as Plato put it.

1. Vittore Carpaccio – The Healing of the Possessed Man at the Rialto (c. 1496)

Painting by Vittore Carpaccio (ca. 1460-1525), an Italian painter of the Venetian school, trained in the style of the Vivarini and the Bellini.
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 Painting by Vittore Carpaccio (ca. 1460-1525), an Italian painter of the Venetian school, trained in the style of the Vivarini and the Bellini. Photograph: David Lees

This painting of everyday life in 15th century Venice reveals how mental illness was understood and treated in the middle ages. It is sometimes called “The Healing of the Madman”, but “possessed” is closer to contemporary ideas about the mind. For the man being miraculously healed by a priest amidst the human drama of the Rialto bridge has been taken over by a demon. His suffering is neither a medical nor social problem, but a religious experience.

2. Matthias Grunewald – The Temptation of St. Anthony (c. 1512 – 16)

The Temptations of Saint Anthony and the Conversation between Saint Anthony and Saint Paul the Hermit, from the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Mathias Grunewald (1475-1528), oil on panel.
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 The Temptations of Saint Anthony and the Conversation between Saint Anthony and Saint Paul the Hermit, from the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Mathias Grunewald (1475-1528), oil on panel. Photograph: DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images

Late medieval artists were fascinated by the story of the early Christian hermit Saint Anthony the Great who was tempted by devils. For Grunewald, this becomes a truly personal and psychological terror, an image of a man whose sanity is under threat. The infinite horrible shapes of the demons are like malformed thoughts. It is a compassionate work, for this is part of the Isenheim altarpiece, painted for a hospital that treated people with disfiguring illnesses. One of the devils has the sores and grey skin that appear in other parts of the altarpiece and evoke the illnesses treated there. Does this swarming scene therefore portray the threat to mental health posed by extreme physical suffering? It influenced German expressionism and is to this day a masterpiece of the threatened mind.

3. Albrecht Durer – Melancholia (1514)

Johan Wierix; after Albrecht Durer, Melancolia. Engraving on paper, Scottish National Gallery
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 Johan Wierix; after Albrecht Durer, Melancolia. Engraving on paper, Scottish National Gallery. Photograph: Antonia Reeve

This visionary work of art is both a diagnosis and heroic celebration of what might now be seen as illness. Melancholia was known and experienced in the middle ages, a darkness of the mind resulting from an inbalance of the humours. That darkness is marked on the brooding face of Durer’s spirit of melancholy. In her despond, she appears unable to continue with her great works. She is to judge by her tools a mathematician, geometer, and architect: a Renaissance genius. Durer portrays through this emblem his own inner life and intuits the mind’s complexity. For Melancholy in his eyes is the badge of genius – to aspire to know and create is to slump into despair. Unhappiness is noble, for Durer. This print is arguably the beginning of modern psychology.

4. William Hogarth – The Rake in Bedlam (1733)

The insight of Durer – not to mention Shakespeare and Cervantes – that mental shadows are part of human life was lost on the founders of London’s Bethlem Hospital. The notorious “Bedlam” was founded in the middle ages and may have specialised in mental illness as early as the 14th century. When Hogarth in the 18th century portrayed a young man whose career of gambling and spending had led him there, it was a place where Londoners could come and look at the “mad”. Hogarth shows two “sane” women enjoying the spectacle of madness, which includes people who think they are kings and bishops. Of course, in Hogarth’s view, the boundary between sanity and insanity is not that obvious at all.

5. Francisco Goya y Lucientes – The sleep of reason produces monsters (c. 1799)

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. (Capricho No 43). Found in the collection of State Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
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 The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. (Capricho No 43). Found in the collection of State Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images

Goya’s depiction of a sleeping man – the artist – assailed by monsters of the night is an image of reason’s frailty made at the end of the Enlightenment, the great 18th century movement that sought to change the world with encyclopaedias, scientific demonstrations and the first factories. Goya’s pessimistic yet also compassionate view is that reason only ever rules part of our minds. It must share the world with nightmares. At the dawn of the modern age, this great image echoes old depictions of the Temptations of St. Anthony, whose assailants have not gone away after all.

6. Theodore Gericault – Portraits of the Insane (1822)

A woman addicted to gambling, by Jean-Louis Theodore Gericault (1791-1824).
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 A woman addicted to gambling, Portraits of the Insane, by Jean-Louis Theodore Gericault (1791-1824). Photograph: DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images

In the Romantic age extreme states of mind and inner suffering were the stuff of poetry and art. This mood of introspection opens new eyes on mental health in Gericault’s portraits of the “insane”. He painted ten of these, of which five still exist, all depicting patients of his friend Dr Etienne-Jean Georget. In this painting, there is deep respect and human sympathy for a woman whose illness seems mostly visible as deep unhappiness. Escaping from stereotypes and prejudice, Gericault portrays mental illness as a part of the human condition that he himself – as an artist whose paintings dwell on death and violence – clearly feels close to.

7. Gustave Courbet – Self-Portrait (The Desperate Man) (c. 1843 – 45)

The painting 'The Desperate Man' by French painter Gustave Courbet can be seen at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt/Main, central Germany, October 14, 2010.
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 The painting ‘The Desperate Man’ by French painter Gustave Courbet can be seen at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt/Main, central Germany, October 14, 2010. Photograph: FRANK RUMPENHORST/AFP/Getty Images

In a moment of Romantic exhilaration Courbet portrays himself as a “madman”, his face ecstatic and terrified. His desperate state of mind is not a shameful sickness but a badge of artistic pride. In a tradition that goes back to Durer’s Melancholia but reached new power in the Romantic age, he equates genius and madness. This face of desperation is the face of the 19th century avant garde, risking and even courting sickness with drink and drugs. Courbet looks like a character in one of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, his mind unravelling in a way the first modern artists were fascinated by.

8. Vincent van Gogh – Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889)

Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, by Vincent van Gogh, 1889
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 Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, by Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Photograph: Peter Barritt/Getty Images/SuperStock RM

Vincent van Gogh was fascinated by a 19th century painting called The Madness of Hugo van der Goes. In this picture the medieval artist Hugo van der Goes – who in real life was confined to a monastery because of mental illness – broods in torment, while those around him despair of helping the afflicted man. Van Goghwrote that he sometimes identified with this painting. Here, shortly after cutting off his own earlobe, he scrutinises himself as a man similarly afflicted. Or is he? Vincent’s eyes are crystal blue, his gaze acute and penetrating. He looks at his wounded face objectively, with deep truth. He is neither “sane” nor “insane” but a fellow human being who speaks to us with courage and honesty.

9. Edvard Munch – The Scream (1893)

People look at Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' in Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.
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 People look at Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ in Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Madness is the modern condition in this work of art that has the clarity of a theorem. The Scream is universal. This is how life today makes us feel, says Munch. Far from a pathology afflicting individuals, the desire to scream out in pain and isolation under the wobbly sky is a sane response to an insane world. Munch takes the artistic revaluation of mental illness that started in the Romantic age to its logical conclusion: there is no Bedlam but the world itself.

10. Josef Forster – Untitled work in the Prinzhorn Collection (after 1916)

Once Munch and Van Gogh made “madness” a positive value in modern art, a key to visionary truth, it was only a matter of time before the medical profession too started to see new connections between art and the mind. Before his death in 1933, Dr Hans Prinzhorn assembled a collection of art by mentally ill patients that was the beginning of what is now known as “outsider art”. This example has the eerie power of Goya. From something to be depicted by artists, “madness” has become a source of artistic originality in itself.

Topics

https://www.theguardian.com/society/christmas-charity-appeal-2014-blog/2015/jan/13/-sp-a-short-history-of-mental-illness-in-art



Art History and Disability

by richard

http://arthistoryteachingresources.org/lessons/disability-in-art-history/

FIRST THINGS FIRST…

This class will look at examples of the disabled human body as it has been represented in art history. What does it mean to be human? How is the body used and represented in visual culture? How are formations of disability articulated in relation to ideas of normality, hybridity, and/or anomaly, and how do artists use visual culture to affirm or subvert notions of the normative body? From Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Diego Velázquez to Marc Quinn and the Chapman brothers, artists have included images of the disabled body in their work. Other artists, including Orlan and Stelarc, have used their bodies to push notions of normality.

This lesson plan explores the body in visual culture to uncover the ways in which bodily difference is and has been articulated physically and theoretically and demonstrates the ways in which disability, like gender, race, or sexuality, is a cultural construction. This lesson includes artwork from across stylistic and historical periods in order to demonstrate the ways in which disability is historically and culturally contingent. Considerations include the changing role of images of the body in visual culture and the place of those representations in society.

Because this is a vast project, this lesson uses just a few artistic examples per theme, and offers them in relation to subjects likely to have come up in past lessons, in order to engage students in critical thinking rather than attempt a historical narrative.

Themes:

  • Historical Representations of Disability
  • “Freakshows,” Power, and Privilege
  • Body, Performance, and the Posthuman

Chronologically, “disability studies” emerged in the mid-to-late 1980s, and “body art” was established as a category of contemporary art in the 1970s, but disabled bodies occur in art dating to at least the 1st century CE. Still, a class on the disabled body might come quite late in the semester, after looking at other issues of identity, such as race, ethnicity, and gender. A lecture on “Disability in Art” can be a good opportunity to reflect on a central narrative of art history—representation of the human figure—and to reflect on the ways in which art contributes to and challenges the construction of normative culture. Disability studies offers an alternative methodology and point of departure for the study of the body in art history.

Consider past material covered with the class—how has the body, both abled and disabled, appeared within the course? Why do we tend to ignore the disabled bodies that appear in works such as Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656)? How much have we learned about the lives and impact of people with disabilities throughout history? Why might that be?

Ableism is defined in disability studies as discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. The ableist views able bodies as the norm in society, implying that people who have disabled bodies must strive to become that norm. Disability is thus held as an error, a mistake, or a failing, rather than a simple consequence of human diversity; disability is seen as a “bad” thing that must be overcome. Use this definition to prompt a discussion about the ways ability bias has impacted art making and the ways it can affect our understanding of history. Ask students to take a few minutes in groups to answer the above questions, referring to concrete examples from the course, before coming back together as a class. As a group, try to compile a list of works that include representations of disability. Consider the biases of historians who often believe that their criteria of what is important is universal, without recognizing how their judgment is shaped by the particularities of their privileged positions.

BACKGROUND READINGS

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Beggars, 1568.

Some background readings for teachers that are both foundational disability studies texts and that address various applications of the topic outlined above (historical representations of disability; the “freakshow” and issues of power and privilege; and the body, performance art, and the posthuman) include:

  • Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body (New York: New York University Press, 1996).
  • Amelia Jones, Body Art: Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).
  • Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky, The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York: New York University Press, 2001).
  • Ann Millett-Gallant, The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
  • Joseph P. Shapiro, No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement (New York: Times Books, 1994).

CONTENT SUGGESTIONS

Disability has always been part of the human condition. Throughout history, people with disabilities have often served as visual and cultural objects, rather than as active participants in and creators of culture and media. People with disabilities have not typically decided how they would be portrayed in art, nor have they participated in the creation of the art objects in which their bodies appeared. Instead, artists and authors have used various disabilities to convey ideas about evil, suffering, grace, and human nature and to reinforce stereotypes about disability.

Disability is a subjective, corporeal, and complex sociocultural construction. Looking at disabled bodies in art history offers significant insight into the various ways in which art can support or subvert the construction and performance of normative values. Recognizing the ways in which art performs disability ultimately challenges one-dimensional understandings of disability and art.

The key ideas of this lecture can be explored in one hour and fifteen minutes through a variety of examples listed below by theme, including:

  • Polykleitos, Doryphoros, marble copy of bronze original, c. 450–440 BCE
  • Old Market Woman, 150–100 BCE
  • El Greco, The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind, 1570
  • Mosaics at Monreale Cathedral (1180s)
  • Luttrell Psalter, 1325
    • Man with crutches
    • Crippled child
  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Beggars, 1568
  • Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter and John Healing the Cripple at the Gate of the Temple, 1659
  • Francisco Goya, Beggars Who Get about on Their Own in Bordeaux, 1824–7
  • Théodore Géricault, Portraits of the Insane, 1822
  • Lon Chaney as Quasimodo and Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda in the 1923 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film,Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
  • Francis Galton’s Composite Portraits (published in The Photographic News)
    • “The Jewish Type,” 1885
    • “Health, Disease, and Criminality,” 1885
  • Hieronymus Bosch, Ship of Fools, 1490–1500
  • Albrecht Dürer, frontispiece to Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools, 1490–1500
  • Diego Velázquez, Portrait of Sebastián de Morra, 1645
  • Lavinia Fontana, Antonietta Gonzalez, 1656
  • Charles Eisenmann Studio, Myrtle Corbin, c. 1880
  • Charles Eisenmann Studio, Eli Bowen “The Legless Acrobat,” c. 1880
  • Charles Eisenmann Studio, Charles B. Tripp, c. 1880
  • Marion Post Wolcott, Plant City, Florida, Strawberry Festival and Carnival, 1939
  • Ben Shahn, Sideshow, County Fair, Central Ohio, 1938
  • Russell Lee, Untitled, Donaldsonville, Louisiana, 1938
  • Reginald Marsh, Sideshow Sign at Coney Island, c. 1939
  • Eudora Welty, Sideshow Banner, Mississippi State Fair, c. 1939
  • Diane Arbus, A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, NY, 1970
  • Diane Arbus, Mexican Dwarf in his Hotel Room, New York City, 1970
  • Diane Arbus, Untitled, 1970–71
  • Otto Dix, War Cripples, 1920
  • Otto Dix, Scat Players, 1920
  • Orlan, Self-Hybridizations, 1994–Present
  • Stelarc, Third Arm, 1980–98
  • Lisa Bufano, Film Still from Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement, 2013
  • Matthew Barney with Aimee Mullins, Cremaster 3, 2002
  • Mary Duffy, Performance, 1995
  • Venus de Milo, 130–100 BCE
  • Marc Quinn, Alison Lapper Pregnant, 2005
  • Jake and Dinos Chapman, Übermensch (Portrait of Stephen Hawking), 1995

Old Market Woman, 100–150CE.

Historical Representations of Disability in Art History

What does the Classical world’s preference for idealism tell us about their ideology? Aristotle (384–322 BCE) believed, as did many in Ancient Greece, that men were the most highly evolved beings, and that women were an evolutionary step below, representing “the first step along the road to deformity.” Aristotle recommended euthanasia for “deformed children,” writing, “Let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.” Although Hellenistic art includes representations of “grotesques,” the elderly, and children, there were few representations of disability in the Ancient world. Ask students to compare and contrast Classical idealism in the Doryphoros and Hellenistic naturalism in the Old Market Woman and the ways in which stylistic preferences relate to societal values. Could the preference for naturalism and the inclusion of subjects with disabilities, including the elderly, the blind, and the lame, indicate tolerance or even respect for people with disabilities?

The rise of Christianity led to more depictions of people with disabilities, because in the New Testament, Jesus is frequently credited with showing kindness and performing miracles to cure people who were lame, blind, and otherwise disabled. These miracles were often depicted in art, for example in El Greco’s The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind (c. 1570) and the mosaics at Monreale Cathedral (Palermo, Italy), which show Jesus healing lepers.

Ask students to consider the ways in which the idea of “curing the sick” and Biblical miracles contributed to the historical understanding of people with disabilities and their place within society. For instance, the Church’s interest in disability was based on Jesus’ role as a miraculous healer and as a spiritual “physician.” Monks and nuns followed the seven “spiritual works,” which involved feeding, clothing, and housing the poor, visiting them when in prison or sick, and providing counsel and burial services.

“Spiritual works” may have been necessary at a time when much of the population, if they survived disease, famine, war and pestilence, would have had some degree of impairment. In Medieval England, the ‘lepre’ (leper), the ‘blynde’ (blind), the ‘dumbe’ (dumb), the ‘deaff’ (deaf), the ’natural fool’ (a person with a learning difficulty), the ‘creple’ (cripple), the ‘lame’ and the ‘lunatick’ (lunatic) were highly visible presences in everyday life and are represented in manuscripts such as the Luttrell Psalter.

How do these depictions of people with disabilities as part of the fabric of everyday life differ from representations of miraculous cures? Christianity could be used to elicit empathy and support the humane treatment of people with disabilities, but it could also be used to support the belief that people with disabilities were cursed by Satan, and that their disability was a result of sin. As such, people with disabilities were often considered unclean and forced to live in exile. When traveling through a town, people with leprosy were required to ring a bell, alerting others to their presence.

At the time of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, persons with developmental disabilities were treated as subhuman organisms. Martin Luther (1483–1546) denounced children and adults with cognitive disorders as “filled with Satan.” Luther advised that children with severe mental retardation be drowned, because they lacked souls. Similarly John Calvin (1509–64) argued that people with disabilities were not among those predestined for salvation.

As the authority of the Roman Catholic Church diminished, many of the charitable services it provided ceased to exist. The poor and misfortunate, without the refuge of the church, became increasingly homeless at a moment of rapid growth in urban centers. In the city of Paris during the early 1500s, approximately one-third of the population resorted to begging as a means of survival. Many people with disabilities survived as mendicants, as pictured in The Beggars, by Pieter Bruegel (1568).

Christianity, then, often viewed disability as either a sin on the part of persons with disabilities or their families. However, they were also sometimes represented as an act of God for some divine purpose. In the first case, people were punished and excluded from society. In the second case, they were viewed as divine and considered holy. Perceived as sinners or saints, persons with disabilities were usually kept separate from mainstream society and their disabilities were thought to serve some divine purpose.

Have students compare and contrast Rembrandt’s Peter and John Healing the Cripple at the Gate of the Temple and Goya’s Beggars Who Get Around on Their Own in Bordeaux in small groups. Ask them to list their similarities and differences. What sorts of ideas and stereotypes about people with disabilities do these representations construct? What emotions do they evoke?

Both images feature a man with a disability. In Rembrandt’s piece, there are two other characters as well: St. Peter and St. John, who stand over the “cripple” (the commonly accepted term of the time) in an attitude of benevolence and authority. In the biblical story, faith and divine intervention bring about a cure of the man’s disability.

Goya’s drawing focuses more closely on the disabled individual, a beggar riding in a wheelchair. The subject appears dirty and disheveled but also actively engaged in the world. Even the work’s title emphasizes mobility and independence. Goya’s beggar looks out of the piece at the viewer and is portrayed as an active person, whereas Rembrandt’s cripple sits passively, his back to the viewer; he waits to be healed so that he can then take part in the world around him.

Why are the two images so different? Is it because one is based on a religious theme, and the other focuses on contemporary nineteenth-century society? Might the circumstances of the artist’s lives impact their constructions? In 1792, Goya lost his hearing and had been deaf for thirty years when he made this drawing. Ask the class to discuss whether Goya’s deafness may have influenced his attitudes about disabilities? If so, how?

Building on, but diverging from the religious model that saw Jesus as the “spiritual physician,” the medical model of disability emerged in the nineteenth century and classified disability as an impairment, as something wrong with the body. Following the rise of modern scientific medicine and the professionalism of the discipline, doctors during the nineteenth century developed concepts of “disease” and “injury” to refer to deviations from normal body functioning. Disability became something to be healed by science rather than religion; it became a medical rather than a religious or social issue. Persons with disabilities became patients needing to be cured. By defining people by their disabilities rather than as full human beings, the medical model fosters classifications, dependence on professional care, and often involves painful treatments.

The medical model also lends itself to eugenics and Social Darwinism. Social Darwinism, promoted by the nineteenth-century philosopher and political theorist Herbert Spencer, held that the theories governing the evolution of biological species—the “survival of the fittest”—held true for individuals and social systems as well. This belief helped to justify forced sterilizations, marriage restrictions, and the incarceration of individuals with developmental disabilities in institutions. These “patients” often became subjects of artists and scientists who were interested in classifying people by type and appearance.

Among the French Romantic painter Théodore Géricault’s greatest achievements are his Portraits of the Insane. There were ten of them originally, but only five have survived: A Woman Addicted to GamblingA Child SnatcherA Woman Suffering from Obsessive EnvyA Kleptomaniac, and A Man Suffering from Delusions of Military Command. In contrast to his teacher Jacques-Louis David, who had privileged heroic and athletic bodies in his Neoclassical paintings, Géricault, and others of his generation, created sensitive portrayals of suffering bodies that sympathized with victims rather than celebrating heroes.

The fear of persons with physical deformities has long been popular in the media, with figures such as Quasimodo, Captain Hook, Dr. Strangelove, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. In addition to typecasting persons with disabilities as villains, this stereotype contributes to the fear of persons with disabilities living in the community. Students might be asked to discuss representations of people with disabilities in popular films such as: Lon Chaney as Quasimodo and Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda in the 1923 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Stereotypes were reinforced through quasi-scientific theories like eugenics. During the “genetic scare” of the 1920s, people with developmental disabilities were often the objects of fear, believed to be driven by rage and intent upon harming others. “Ugly laws,” which made it illegal for people with visible disabilities to be seen in public, were passed across the country, many of which were not repealed until the mid-1970s. Twenty-eight states adopted statutes that sought sterilization, marriage restriction, and institutionalization of the disabled, and eugenicists advocated euthanasia for disabled infants. People with disabilities were systematically incarcerated, as well as subject to deportation under immigration law. Following the increased demand for segregated housing brought on by prejudicial medical diagnoses and public discrimination, states began building residential institutions at a rapid pace. Francis Galton, the father of the Eugenic Movement, used Composite Photographs to justify his belief in grades of humanity.

Eugenic research had a direct influence on attitudes toward people with disabilities in Nazi Germany. As American professionals were calling for sterilization, Nazi Germany was blaming people with disabilities for wasting valuable resources. At the outbreak of World War II, Hitler ordered widespread “mercy killing” of the sick and disabled. The Nazi euthanasia program was instituted to eliminate “life unworthy of life”; over 200,000 people with disabilities were killed during the holocaust.

There are similar concerns today in the bioethics community over Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act,” the suicide of Brittany Maynard, the fashion for “designer” babies, and the widespread acceptance of abortion of fetuses with possible cognitive or physical disabilities. Students might be asked to discuss: Who decides what constitutes a “life worth living?” How do media representations of ideal bodies influence our notions of what makes life worth living?

Lavinia Fontana, Antoinetta Gonzalez, 1656.

The “Freakshow,” Power, and Privilege

During the fifteenth century, people with physical and mental disabilities were boarded onto ships and exhibited for money before being abandoned at far-flung ports. Hieronymus Bosch’s painting Ship of Fools (1490–1500) depicts the lives of people with cognitive disabilities aboard such a ship.

In 1494, German satirist Sebastian Brant adapted Platos’ allegory of the ship of fools into a popular book that featured woodcut illustrations by Dürerand was the inspiration for Bosch’s painting by the same name. The allegory features a vessel without a pilot that is populated by deranged, frivolous, and oblivious inhabitants who are seemingly ignorant of their course. A parody of the Church’s “ark of salvation,” Ship of Fools inverted societal norms and critiqued the church’s mores and authority. The book became extremely popular, with six authorized and seven pirated editions published before 1521. Court fools were allowed to openly critique hierarchical societal structures, so by writing his work in the voice of Saint Grobian, whom Brant created as the patron saint of vulgarity, Brant could legitimize his criticism of the church.

In the introduction to Michel Foucault’s Madness & Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, Jose Barchilon writes of the ship of fools:

Renaissance men developed a delightful, yet horrible way of dealing with their mad denizens: they were put on a ship and entrusted to mariners because folly, water, and sea, as everyone then “knew,” had an affinity for each other. Thus, “Ships of Fools” crisscrossed the sea and canals of Europe with their comic and pathetic cargo of souls. Some of them found pleasure and even a cure in the changing surroundings, in the isolation of being cast off, while others withdrew further, became worse, or died alone and away from their families. The cities and villages which had thus rid themselves of their crazed and crazy, could now take pleasure in watching the exciting sideshow when a ship full of foreign lunatics would dock at their harbors.

Fools were also viewed as popular “pets” in the royal court, and dwarfs were featured in the work of Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velázquez.

Velázquez painted many portraits of dwarfs, including his Portrait of Sebastián de Morra (1645), which can be compared to the Italian painter Lavinia Fontana’s portrait of ten-year-old Antonietta Gonzalez (1595), whose father Pedro, “The Hairy Man from Munich,” was the first documented case of “werewolf syndrome” or hypertrichosis (as it would be called once the fantastic ailment was scientifically and clinically classified by doctors in the early twentieth century).

What sort of life might these people have led? Are these portraits sensitive and humanizing, or do they contribute to the subordination of people with disabilities?

Although people with disabilities had been exhibited on “ships of fools” and at court, the heyday of such practices came with the opening of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in 1841. During the 1840s the term “freak” came to refer to “a monstrosity, an abnormally developed individual of any species; a living curiosity exhibited in a show.” This definition owes its place in the English vernacular to Barnum and his American Museum (1841–65), which relied on sensational exhibits to draw crowds.

The use of the word “freak” in this part of the lecture and in the scholarship is a conscious choice based on several factors. First, freak is the vernacular of the carnival and is thus historically based. Second, many have offered the word as one that has been reappropriated and inscribed with power, much like the word “queer” has been embraced by the LGBTQ community as well as academics performing queer studies. Moreover, the term connotes the absence of known categories of representation—it is outside representation if you will. The use of this word offers a theoretical discussion point for the class.

In Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter, gender theorist Judith Butler has theorized the body as a discursive space, a text, where cultural and heterosexual hegemony exerts power. As she argues, identity, class, race, sex, and gender are socially constructed and thus performative. In many ways “freakiness” is performative, even when people are displaying their actual physical bodies. Photographs are also performative, so “freak” photography is compelling, not just in the sense that we are drawn to look—to stare unabashedly if you will—without the fear of getting caught (disability studies scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson has theorized the “stare” in lives of people with disabilities), but also in that photographs are conscious constructions not just by the subjects, but also the photographers and the mores of society acting upon their representation.

At the same time, however, there are opportunities for rupture—places and moments where expectations are not met, where the bodies and the photographs of those bodies do not perform the way the viewer or audience might expect. These photos then, especially in the case of portraits, allow people with disabilities to challenge normative ideologies, to construct their own personas, and to create expanded discursive spaces.

Charles Eisenmann was a professional portrait photographer who made cartes de visite, or calling cards, for his exceptional clientele. He kept a studio in New York’s Bowery district, which in the 1880s was home to a mix of artists, performers, and prostitutes, close to Barnum’s American Museum. The performers used the calling cards as marketing and promotional tools. Eisenmann also sold them as collectibles to people who often assembled them into albums. He also kept his own archive. Here are some examples of his studio’s work.

Myrtle Corbin was billed as “the 4-legged girl from Texas,” a popular attraction for Barnum, and later with Ringling Bros. and Coney Island. One of the most popular sideshow freaks, she earned as much as $450 dollars a week (that would be about $14,000 per week today). At the age of nineteen, she married a doctor, with whom she had five children.

Eli Bowen was a tumbler and strong man who toured Europe with Barnum. He was applauded internationally for his extraordinary routine during which he climbed a thirteen-foot pole, then swung around the pole holding his body parallel to the pole with one hand. He married and had four sons. He took great pride in his family and the majority of the photos featuring Eli feature his family as well.

A skilled cabinetmaker, Charles B. Tripp incorporated intricate wood inlay designs into his cabinets. In 1872, he joined Barnum’s circus and worked in his traveling World Fair for almost twenty-five years, then worked another twenty-five years with other circuses including Ringling Bros. In his acts, he performed such tasks as penmanship, portrait painting, and paper cutting. At the turn of the century, Charles became interested in photography and was known as “The Armless Photographer.” He worked as staff photographer to the Barnum circus and also taught others in the show photography.

Eisenmann closed his studio in 1898 after Barnum closed the American Museum and the sideshow went on the road. The traveling sideshow became a popular form of leisure and entertainment during the Great Depression, and several artists including Reginald Marsh, Eudora Welty, and the Farm Security Administration photographers Jack Delano, Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee, Ben Shahn, and Marion Post Wolcott took photographs of the sideshow performers or the banners that advertised the acts of the sideshow.

The FSA collection in the Library of Congress contains about 180,000 images, but only 713 of these were taken at fairs. It appears that only Delano, Rothstein, Lee, Shahn, and Post Wolcott covered the fairs for the FSA, even though these fairs exhibited the products of the farms the FSA was aiding, and fair coverage would seem to fit FSA head Roy Stryker’s mandate of “introducing America to Americans.”

This may reflect attitudes toward persons with disabilities in the 1930s. During the 1930s, people with disabilities faced significant segregation and oppression. Considered by the medical and political establishments as “unfit” for normal roles in society, disabled people were excluded from jobs provided by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration programs, which, according to the WPA Workers’ Handbook, were reserved for “able-bodied” Americans who were “certified by a local agency.”

Of the images taken at fairs, the vast majority are of FSA exhibits, rides, or spectators, though Rothstein, Delano, Wolcott, and Shahn photographed banners, and Lee offered the viewer images of the sideshow, including one of a one-legged man biting the head off of a snake.

Ask students to discuss Wolcott’s Plant City, Florida, Strawberry Festival and Carnival, Shahn’s Sideshow, County Fair, Central Ohio, and Lee’s Untitled, Donaldson, Louisiana. How do these government-sanctioned photographs of difference contribute to and complicate our understanding of disability and its place within American history?

Other photographers of the period interested in the sideshow included Welty and Marsh. Lead students in a compare and contrast Marsh’s Sideshow Sign at Coney Island and Welty’s Sideshow Banner, Mississippi State Fair.

How does gender, both of the photographers and the signs’ subjects (“Mule-face boy” and “Mule-face woman,” respectively), influence these representations and our understanding of them?

Another photographer interested in unusual subjects was Diane Arbus. Her award-winning work has been exhibited in major shows, has earned her two Guggenheim Fellowships, and has attracted heated and divisive criticism, even after (and perhaps fueled by) her death by suicide in 1972. As she told a New Yorker reporter, “Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience […] Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”

Arbus’s photography offers the opportunity to facilitate a debate in class, as scholars are divided on the degree to which her photographs exploited her subjects.

Germaine Greer argues that, although Arbus operates within the tradition of freak photography, there is an important difference between her and her predecessors like Eisenmann. As she argued, “Eisenmann’s subjects had names, stage names and real names. The giants, dwarves, midgets, conjoined twins, bird-girls, bearded women and dog-faced boys whose photographs appear on thousands of postcards were all professionals. Often the notes on the postcards spoke of them as well-educated and happily married. Arbus’s nameless subjects are denied such confederacy and performativity. She often uses the devices of the older tradition in her treatment of otherwise unremarkable subjects. She reduced her subjects to generic phenomena by the names she chose for them: Jewish Giant, Mexican Dwarf, Albino Sword-Swallower.”

As she says, “Arbus is not an artist who makes us see the world anew; she embeds us in our own limitations, our lack of empathy, our kneejerk reactions, our incuriosity and lack of concern. Hers is a world without horizons where there is no escape from self.” (“Wrestling with Diane Arbus,” The Guardian, 2005).

Similarly Susan Sontag suggests Arbus’s “interest in freaks expresses a desire to violate her own innocence, to undermine her sense of being privileged, to vent her frustration at being safe” and that her photographs are “based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other.”

On the other hand, John Szarkowski, former curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, saw Arbus as a trailblazer in a new photographic aesthetic, and Sandra S. Philips, curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art argues that Arbus “was a great humanist photographer who was at the forefront of a new kind of photographic art.”

Do these photographs do violence to their subjects, as Sontag argued, or do they offer visibility to people who are otherwise marginalized?

Stelarc, Third Arm, 1980–98.

Body, Performance, and the Posthuman

The final section offers examples of modern and contemporary artists who engage with issues of disability in their work. A significant issue in contemporary theory is the deconstruction of the embodied nature of humanism. In humanistic thought, the mind and body are separate, with the body acting as a vehicle for the mind. Information technologies, scientific discoveries, and bioengineering challenge the role of the body, yet they are unable to fully replace the human body. Moreover, war, plastic surgery, and prosthetics have had a significant impact of the role of the body as well as of representations of people with disabilities, specifically as powerful subjects in critiques of war. Take for instance the German painter Otto Dix’s critique of WWI as seen in Scat Players and War Cripples.

Just as Brant used the Ship of Fools to challenge the cultural hegemony of the Church and the Crown during the fifteenth century, Dix’s work incorporates the mangled bodies of war veterans to show the human costs of nationalism during the early twentieth century. World War I was the first industrialized war, and the mechanization of warfare had dramatic effects.

Due to increased medical knowledge, wounds that would have killed soldiers in the past now left them disfigured amputees. These wounded veterans are a recurring theme in Dix’s work. The card players, who are outfitted with crude prosthetics, represent the German elite of the Weimar era. The soldier on the right wearing the Iron Cross represents the military. Opposite him sits a figure alluding to finance and capitalism. In the middle is a figure symbolizing the old aristocracy. The card players are propped up by technology, but the painting critiques the degree to which this can be considered progress.

While Dix used amputees as vehicles to parody political leaders in a fashion similar to Brant’s Ship of Fools, others have used prosthetics to investigate difference, the posthuman, and the transhuman. “Posthumanism” denotes an interest in the possibilities of life beyond human evolution and addresses questions of ethics, justice, language, and trans-species communication. Transhumanism is a movement that seeks to transform the human condition through technologies that enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacity. Orlan (Self-Hybridizations) and Stelarc (Third Arm) are two contemporary artists who investigate and push the boundaries of “humanness” by undergoing surgeries to transform their bodies into hybrids and cyborgs.

Lisa Bufano’s dance work has incorporated a variety of prosthetics and props, such as using orange Queen Anne table legs as legs and arms, as seen in Film Still from Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement. Bufano was a professional dancer before she became a bilateral below-the-knee and total finger-thumb amputee due to a staphylococcus bacterial infection at the age of twenty-one. Unwilling to give up her passion for dance, she developed ways to use her work to investigate corporeal difference and sexual identity. Sadly, she committed suicide in 2013.

Matthew Barney has also expressed an interest in corporeal difference and sexual identity, which he explored extensively in his Cremaster series. This still features Aimee Mullins, who was born with a medical condition that resulted in the amputation of both of her lower legs. She is known for her work as an athlete, actress, fashion model, and proponent of prosthetic innovation.

In Cremaster 3, Barney’s character undergoes Masonic initiation. A major theme of the film is the Masonic theory that you have to lose your “lower” self in order to reach a higher level. Mullins is literally without legs — the lower self — and is depicted alternately with crystal prostheses and cheetah legs; Barney must kill her to achieve the level of Master Mason. Barney’s film is controversial and has been interpreted as alternately fetishizing and demonizing the posthuman prosthetically/technologically enhanced body.

Other performance artists have used their disabilities to challenge stereotypes and normative behavior. The Irish artist Mary Duffy was born without arms. In 1995, she did a Performance piece in which she posed in the nude and performed a monologue, during which she described the ways her body has been defined by medicine and society as lacking, inadequate, and undesirable. In the piece, she discussed her confrontations with medical and social gazes and described how they impacted her self-confidence. She used her body to invoke the famous “armless” broken sculpture Venus de Milo, and to challenge normative beauty standards.

As part of the performance, she relayed questions that people had asked her, including “Were you born like that, or did your mother take those dreadful tablets? Did you have an accident?” Duffy’s performance exposed the nude disabled body visually and artistically, as it also revealed the social practices and values that render disability politically invisible.

As a challenge to invisibility, Young British Artist Marc Quinn sculpted fellow artist and activist Alison Lapper Pregnant in Carrara marble for the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. The work featuring Lapper, who was born without arms and with shortened legs, has been the subject of controversy and debate by those who view it alternately as offensive or progressive. The work, like Quinn’s other sculptures of amputee models for the series The Complete Marbles (2002), adopts the idealism of Neoclassicism to critique public representations of disability.

In contrast, the Jake and Dinos Chapman’s portrait of Stephen Hawkingrejects idealism. Labeled “the most detestable, the most repellent, and the most pointless work of art” by The Guardian, this lifelike twelve-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture depicts Hawking in his wheelchair on top of a rocky mountain. Although decried by The Guardian as crude and sarcastic, Art Monthly labeled it brilliant, and some disability rights scholars have defended it as an honest portrayal that captures the reality of both the subject and the artists.

Students might discuss the politics of representation present in this piece, and debate whether it is sardonic or sincere.

AT THE END OF CLASS…

Ask students to reflect on the various ways that disability has been constructed throughout history and how visual representations are powerful tools in the construction of societal values. This lecture has brought together religious and secular paintings, photographs, contemporary sculptures, performance, and digital media to examine the various visual constructions of disability and difference that they embody. If students are interested in further projects related to arts and disability, you might direct them to http://disartfestival.org/, an online resource. Whereas disability has rarely been a part of the American cultural imaginary, the DisArt Festival hopes to subvert normative expectations and cultivate a space where differences are celebrated.

Keri Watson (author) is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Central Florida, focusing on modern and contemporary art and issues of disability in visual culture.

Jon Mann (editor) is an Adjunct Lecturer at Lehman College, a Senior Contributor at Artsy, and a lecture contributor and editor at Art History Teaching Resources and Art History Pedagogy and Practice.

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Bodily Perfection Polykleitos, Doryphoros, marble copy of bronze original, c. 450–440 BCE

by richard