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Disability as Power in the Works of Mary Duffy, Frida Kahlo, and Vassar Millar

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What do you do without either of your arms? What do you do for a living constrained to a wheelchair? What do you do without control over your own body? Many people in the world today spend their lives wishing things were not as they were, attempting to forget how they are, or trying to change how they are going to be. When "disabled" people succeed, it is commonly thought that those individuals are amazing for overcoming their disabilities and thriving in life. Is this really what they are doing? The following three women, Mary Duffy, Frieda Kahlo, and Vassar Miller transform their disabilities into the ability to create complex forms of art that force the audience to gain a different perspective on disabilities. Their disabilities become their power. The artists use this power to force their audiences to look at their disabilities in an utterly new way using the "stare and tell" method. These women do not succeed despite their disabilities, but instead succeed because of them

. The "stare and tell" is a term that Rosemarie Garland Thomson, a disability studies scholar and writer, has created to explain a method in performance art that forces the audience to look at disabilities in an entirely new light. She states "As a fusion of both seeing and telling, disability performance art foregrounds the body as an object both to be viewed and to be explained." The artist first beckons the audiences to break the social "normative" and forces the audience to stare at the artist?s disability. Once the attention of the audience is solely on the artist and his or her disability, the method then takes on the "tell" aspect and enables the audience to become aware of what exactly the artist has to say in his or her own words.

Mary Duff...


... middle of paper ...


...ly amazing affects she had on her audience. Although she died in 1998 at the age of seventy-four, her poetry is still gaining fame and affecting people across the United States.

Often, many people do not know of such individuals. If one has heard of them is it most likely in the category of amazing individuals who are able to overcome life?s most challenging obstacles and succeed in ways never imagined. This is just not so. These women do not succeed in spite of their disabilities, but instead succeed because of them. Mary Duffy, Vassar Miller, and Freida Kahlo have all forced their audiences to visually give attention to their disability and thus have challenged societies stereotypical assumptions, whether on stage, in writing, or on a canvas. Their endeavors are summarized in the words of Frieda Kahlo, "Feet, what do I need them for, if I have wings to fly?"



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