Made between 1735 and 2021, these works ask us to consider how disability and illness are embodied and experienced, and how they have been represented by artists and deployed as visual tropes. These works foreground the ways that culture and art are shaped by physical, mental, and sensory differences that exist on the continuum of human variation. From moralizing, stereotypical historical representations of disability to more prideful modern and contemporary works, this exhibition highlights how disability is made, unmade, and remade towards new ends.
While not the only way to consider this subject, Variance understands disability through the social model of disability, an approach first developed in the UK in the 1960s. In this framing, disability is not centered on defect and cure. Rather, disability is a social phenomenon in which people with some forms of difference experience oppression, stigmatization, or failure to be accommodated within the larger cultural sphere, while others are given priority. In this spirit, Variance aspires to help reveal what might be gained by welcoming a broader range of difference.
Not all these works are made by artists who identify as having a disability or illness. Sometimes the disability or illness is visible within the work itself, and other times it was part of the making or the artist’s life narrative. Variance invites you to consider what is gained, generated, or open to imagination by embracing disability as a critical framework through which to experience the world. We are, after all, incredibly varied in normative and sometimes extraordinary ways.
Conor Moynihan Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and former Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow RISD Museum
RISD Museum is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and with the generous partnership of the Rhode Island School of Design, its Board of Trustees, and Museum Governors.
Variance: Making, Unmaking, and Remaking Disability is also made possible by the Mellon Foundation.
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