Damian Hurst’s Charity 2002-2003
“Damien Hirst’s new sculpture ‘Charity’ questions our attitudes towards disability” is the title given to one article and got quite a few people talking. For example, on FaceBook someone copied some of the publicity FAD Magazine used to discuss the piece.
“Apparently the piece ‘… revolutionises the classical practice of elevating a noble subject, by selecting the dejected image of a disabled girl with her leg in a splint and depicting the charity box having been broken into.’
The plot thickens: ‘Scope, which supports disabled people and their families, is one of the chosen charities of the Lord Mayor of the City of London for his Appeal, making the placement of Charity in his jurisdiction especially topical. This is not the first time that Scope and this work have crossed paths; a maquette of Charity was sold in 2004, with the proceeds donated to Scope. Hirst has several times sold works to benefit this charitable organisation.
Scope hopes that the sculpture will encourage conversations about disability in the City of London.’”
So what does the artwork say to me?
Clearly the artwork makes some people uncomfortable. It connects to a time when pathetic depictions of disabled people was acceptable and commonplace. Charity, giving to the poor unfortunate cripples was a good thing to do. It seems a bit ironic that the piece is being used in an albeit roundabout way to do the same thing now as Scope is the charity the City currently sponsors just now.
What the artwork doesn’t do is point to any reason why people with physical impairments are disabled. If it did it would point to the lack of physical, organisational access that keeps most of us locked out of the economic and social spheres non disabled people take for granted, and it’s because of this that I see the art as oppressive and tricky in that it is reinforcing the status quo while presenting itself as challenging it.
A different point
But I’ve also been thinking about this art in relation to the work some of my colleagues are exhibiting at Camberwell just now. Much of their work is less overtly political. I then thought about Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures and how and if one can even try and compare overtly political art with other forms and I am not sure you can. We class both as art but that’s about all they have in common.