One of the things I feel I am constantly challenging is the weight of visual representation of disability through impairment. My exploration of the representation of women, Black people and disabled people has shown that most of it focuses on the person with only limited imagery showing how society defines these people through social and cultural things. Yet it is some of that latter type of imagery that resonates most strongly with me. For example, Charlie Philips image of a sign with the words “No Coloured” – see here is very very powerful just as Barbara Kruger’s Questions – see here. Somehow it seems to me that these images are more powerful – no, more thought provoking – than some more shocking pictures of overt oppression, and it is that thoughtfulness as apposed to viscerallity of response that I want to evoke in my work.
However whereas both the artists mentioned above use words I want to try to achieve this without resorting to using words to explain my images. I don’t mind using them if they are in the frame as in Philips’ photo, or appropriating statements from others but I don’t want my body of work to need me to write an explanation to accompany it. Rather the images should collectively speak for themselves both in terms of being interesting images and political statements.
Anyway I paused for a day or so last week and reviewed where I am and this reminded me that the natural next step on my journey would be to continue my exploration of symbols by looking at them in contexts. This is the basis for Project 11. I have any number of photos of disability signs – see these examples below. As you see a lot are signs with words, but many use symbols.
I could use this type of image as part of my body of work because the photos do show signage in the landscape and so can trigger thoughts in the viewer about the relationship between disability and the physical and social environment but there is a big drawback: it can be aesthetically boring.
I want to say something visually about what it’s like to live in an apartheid environment where I have to comply with special rules in order to obtain access to places everyone else takes for granted. But I want to do this in a way that is pictorially interesting as well as making my point. That is the challenge for this project.