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Elements of a Culture: Visions by Deaf Artists

The national Touring Exhibit of Deaf Culture Art, formally known as "Elements of A Culture: Visions by Deaf Artists" premieres at the Bank of America Gallery in Seattle from October 7 to November 5, 1999. This first touring exhibit featuring works by Deaf artists focusing on the Deaf experience will next appear at the Switzer Gallery, at NTID in Rochester, NY February 1-27, 2000, and then travel to Miami FL, St. Paul MN, Boston MA and Lexington KY before closing in San Jose CA in September 2000.

Deaf people make up a separate, distinct and proud culture. Deaf artists identify themselves not as persons with a disability – "little 'd' deaf" – but as members of a linguistic minority – "capital 'D' Deaf" – hence not something to be "fixed" but people to be celebrated. Deaf Art is like other genres of minority art in communicating universals of minority oppression and bonding.

Deaf Art expresses the values of Deaf Culture: the beauty of sign language and its painful oppression, the joys of Deaf bonding, communication breakdowns between signers and non-signers, the discovery of language and community, and the history of Deaf people. Deaf Art or, more precisely, Deaf View Image Art, is a genre that uses formal art elements to express the "innate cultural or physical deaf experience."  Deaf Art is created when the artist intends to express their Deaf experience through visual art.

Sign Language is not just a means of communication for Deaf people but a cherished art form in its own right.  Paul Johnston and Chuck Baird use images of the hand as important icons in their work. Paul conveys some of the visual lyricism of sign language in his watercolors, Poetic Hands 1 and 2.  Chuck Baird's Art No. 2 depicts both the tools of the artist's trade and the sign for art. The stark simplicity of Orkid Sassouni's black and white photographs highlights the unrestrained expressiveness of her Deaf subjects in her Being Deaf and Free Spirit.

Both Betty G. Miller and Ann Silver give political voices to the history of Deaf people. Betty G. Miller's scathing commentary on the oppression of sign language is evident in Ameslan Prohibited. ("Ameslan" is a now-obsolete contraction of "American Sign Language.") The pen and ink drawing shows handcuffed hands with dismembered fingers. Ann Silver likens the medical and pathological views of Deaf people to boxed and labeled crayons in Deaf Identity Crayons: Then and Now.

Communication barriers are another linking theme in the exhibit, expressed by Susan Dupor and Thad Martin. Susan Dupor portrays feelings typical to isolated deaf children living in non–signing hearing families in Family Dog. The faces of other members of the family are blurred, indicating the similarities between lipreading and the experience of listening to a TV program disrupted by static.  Articulatus by Thad Martin is a composition of heads telling a wordless story of a deaf experience: from an awakening to one's sense of self, through a struggle for footing in the hearing world, to an affirmation one's wholeness and acceptance of the journey to come.

At each site, the exhibit program will include an opening reception, lectures on Deaf art by national authorities, a panel discussion with local artists, guided tours for students from Deaf, ASL Interpreting or Deaf studies programs in the area high schools and colleges.  Exhibition posters featuring Chuck Baird's Art No. 2 will be on sale.  As an educational tool for Deaf Studies classrooms we will also have for sale a Deaf Art instruction portfolio containing slides of the works shown with information about the artists, artworks, cultural and historical contexts, and curriculum suggestions.

The Touring Exhibit of Deaf Culture Art is a collection of works by 16 American Deaf artists in a variety of styles and media over the period from 1972 to 1999. Participating artists include: Chuck Baird, Arizona; Irene Bartok, New York; Uzi Buzaglo, Maryland; Susan Dupor, Wisconsin; Paul Johnston, Maryland; Thad C. Martin and Tony Landon McGregor, Texas; Betty G. Miller, Washington DC; Joan Popovich-Kutscher and Orkid Sassouni, California; Ann Silver, Washington State; Marjorie Stout, Michigan; Robin Taylor, New York; Sandi Inches Vasnick, Arizona; Alex Wilhite, North Carolina and Harry R. Williams.

We would like to thank individuals and organizations for loaning artworks to the exhibit and local organizations for sponsoring the exhibit at our seven exhibit sites. This juried exhibition was made possible by the collaboration of the artists and by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to Northeastern University, Boston with additional funding from Northeastern University Trustees Chet Krentzman and Stanley Young.

The Touring exhibit is directed by Harlan Lane, University Distinguished Professor, Northeastern University and Brenda Schertz, Adjunct Instructor of Deaf Studies at Northeastern University. Dr. Lane is a world-renowned authority on Deaf language and culture. Ms. Schertz is a nationally-recognized curator of Deaf Art.

For more information about the touring exhibit please contact Brenda Schertz, at 617-267-5709 TTY, 617-867-9576 Fax, or by e-mail .