Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Riva Lehrer

Continuing on the subject of art and disability, I found this site today via Wheelchair Dancer. Riva Lehrer is an artist who draws and paints what appears to be mostly disability themed portraits. Her gallery is an interesting portrayal of a community of people she obviously loves very much, but although I think it's valuable to have someone out there making these pictures, this isn't what I want to do.

This picture, for example, shows a woman who is an amputee swimming with an otter (or seal?). It says a lot of things about the social and psychological consequences of disability but much less about the immediate physical experience. Maybe my problem is just that my experience of disability has nothing to do with other people seeing me a certain way, or with anything visible at all. My experience of disability is almost completely opposite; my body has betrayed me in the most subtle and subjective ways possible, so that I look completely normal when nothing is right.

What I want from art is a path to expressing all the things that aren't obvious. Not that there's anything wrong with expressing things that are obvious, or more accurately things that should be obvious but are still mistaken all the time. It's just that the struggle that I have isn't convincing people that I'm still human in spite of differences in appearance, it's convincing them that although I look the same, my knowledge of life is different because everything I see is stained with pain. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that this message is one that it's possible to convey. Pain is such an oddly hard concept to grasp.


Elizabeth McClung said...

I recommend two things, a book by Michael Levy called The forbidden Zone and a documentary called War Photographer. I really like the idea of the project but it will have huge, huge costs on you personally. I say this because my own writing, if I am trying to do something good, and not just the usual, causes me nightmares, daymares, the works. And you can see over and over again that you get close to pain, to express pain, to reflect it artistically, it will live in you in ways you won't expect (different ways than now.) Is that okay?

I am sorry, it is your project, I will try to be a support, I just thought those might interest you.

The Goldfish said...

I share your position with this stuff; pain and fatigue are the difference and they are invisible. The best representation of my experience is probably that some of the Kahlo self-portraits, even though her impairment was quite different to my own.

Like Elizabeth, I would steer away from writing about pain, but I'm not sure that a visual expression would pose the same problems. Perhaps because I regard the visual more about interpretation than writing, which requires more analysis. If that makes sense.

Your post is certainly food for thought.

Wheelchair Dancer said...

Hi Tayi! I'm really intrigued to see what you figure out. I have no idea how I would meet your goals. I don't know any one who has done it, either.

Here's one thing about dance and pain -- it's almost the reverse of what you are looking for, but at least Loolwa talks about pain.

Tayi said...

Wow, three whole people commenting on the same thread. That's a record here!

Thanks for the encouragement and the ideas. :)

Anonymous said...

It's difficult to paint literal pain without creating figures that make the able bodied world see us the way they always have - cut off in our bodies, unconnected to anyone or anything outside of our suffering. On the other hand, sometimes I feel that disability culture has gone overboard in focussing on only the positive aspects of our identity. There has to be room for pain, sorrow, grief and fear without reducing us to monuments to pathos.

We're all still trying to figure this out. In my work, I think there's a lot of pain, but I don't aim for it as the first subject. It's more obvious in my self-portraits when I don't have to worry about someone else's well being. I admit that I have been more active in painting people with visible impairments but that's more a love of unexpected form than a belief in the greater "reality" of visible impairments.

The best possible outcome of any artist's, writer's, dancer's work is to provoke other artists to fill in the blanks with the production of their own stories. Which opens the world wider.

With thanks and best regards, Riva Lehrer