The Internet, Disability and Artistic Expression

This article was originally posted on Yahoo! Accessibility.

Feminist Art Movement

The world of art, particularly art displayed in larger professional art galleries, has long been the domain of white men. Well-known artists throughout history are almost all white men, and depictions of women are often passive and sensual rather than involved in her surroundings. The images are of women as seen through the eyes of men, rather than how they see themselves (Whitehead, 1999; Brand, 2006).

The Guerrilla Girls, a group of women who work to get women and minorities represented as artists, called the Metropolitan out for their biased representation where 97% of the work displayed was done by men, and 83% of the nude work displayed was of naked women – asking “Do Women Need to Be Naked To Get into The Met?” (Brand, 2006). Out of frustration for the lack of representation of personal experience, women started the feminist art movement in the 1970s both to get their artistic expressions seen, and also as a form of activist response to mainstream art.

Art Online

With the ever-growing popularity of the Internet, women are able to connect with other people who understand their frustrations, as well as put their own artistic expression in very public spaces. Self-expression made public can convey a great deal of meaning for the artist – especially for marginalized groups. Art is often about feeling (even more so for women, who often experience art with both sides of their brain), and for many marginalized groups, those feelings go unnoticed (BBC, 2009).

The Internet provides a medium for art that previously would previously have never seen the light of day. Artists can have their own website to represent their work, as can physical art galleries that house pieces of art that can be later viewed in person. Additionally, performance artist groups can share videos of their work, both vastly increasing who they can reach and providing a way of growing interest in their theater performances. Writers can create blogs and self-publish their work online. They can also spread the word about published pieces and talk to members of the target audience. Community can be built around art in broader ways that transcend what was previously experienced by localized art communities.

Women with Disabilities

Female artists with disabilities are no exception. As a marginalized group, they struggle with representation in the larger art world. However, in the later half of the 20th century, the disability rights movement also fostered the creation of an entire genre of art (Disability Art) that explores the experience of living with a disability (Barnes, 2008). Many modern female artists with disabilities cite both the disability rights and feminist movements as dominant inspirations in their work.

Here is just a small list of amazing women (mostly from the U.S.) who at least in part benefit from the use the Internet to spread the impact of their work: Petra Kuppers, performance artist and founder of The Olimpias project; Ju Gosling, multimedia storyteller and performance artist; Cheryl Marie Wade, writer and performer; Laura Hershey, writer and poet; Anne Finger, author; Victoria Ann Lewis, performer and writer; Riva Lehrer, painter and writer; Sunaura (Sunny) Taylor, painter; Veronica Elsea, composer and musician; Carrie Sandahl, performer and head of the UIC Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities; and many of the AXIS Dance Company dancers. This is nowhere near an exhaustive list. Know of others (especially outside the U.S)? Comment below and share them!

There are also several websites and organizations that support the work of artists with disabilities online (such as VSANational Institute of Art and DisabilitiesNational Arts and Disability CenterDisability Art and Culture Project, and one page mentions like The Amazing Art of Disabled Artists, among others). Know of other organizations or collections (especially outside the U.S)? Again, comment below and share them with others!

GimpGirl Community supports female artists with disabilities through our virtual art gallery (see pictures below). On our Second Life parcel, a co-created space, we have an art gallery to showcase the artwork of our members, who are often marginalized as women, disabled, poor, minority, etc. Their works convey a great deal of feeling – physical pain, heartache, frustration, joy, power, friendship, and knowing.

For many of the artists, these pictures had never been seen by anyone outside of their family or roommates. When they put them in our gallery, other women who experience similar feelings had immediate connections with what the feeling was. The artist was there, being real and vulnerable and connecting with other people who understood. It is an incredibly powerful thing, to feel that connection over something you never thought you would share with anyone. Technology allows people to come together in this way, supporting expression, healing and connection.

Sources:

Barnes, C. (2008). Behinderung und Dritte Welt (Journal for Disability and International Development). 19 Jargang, Ausgabe 1. 4 -13.

Brand, P. (2006). Feminist Art Epistemologies: Understanding Feminist Art. Hypatia, 21:3.

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About Jennifer Cole

Jennifer Cole (SL: JennyLin Arashi) is a founding member and Director of the GimpGirl Community. Jennifer is also a research associate in the Experiential Design and Gaming Environments (EDGE) Lab at Ryerson University. She has worked with Oregon Public Health to create state policy recommendations around women with disabilities and sexual health. Jennifer currently resides in Washington State. She is an invited speaker and author on topics such as disability, social media, technology and sexuality.