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An Exhibition, 2012



During the making of this body of work, the central concern within my practice as an artist had been to think about the diseased and the disabled body and how we try to 'manage' and to 'order' it; to probe the terror, the discomfort, the horror and even disgust that the sight of a diseased body (especially a diseased skin) creates in us which is the reason why we try to tame and order it.

Thinking around this area led me to explore the visual representations that modern medicine uses and the way these shape our perception of disease. As an artist whose primary field is the visual, I became interested in researching how image making within the field of medicine controls our gaze as regards our bodies. I started exploring not just modern medical images but also representations from the history of medicine. I was looking at illustrated texts such as the Historia Monstrorum and De Monstruorum Natura, the first ‘scientific’ attempts in the western world during the Renaissance at enumerating and recording monstrous births and disability. These were modeled on earlier texts such as 'Physiologus' (Greek) and the medieval 'Bestiaries' which were apparently more fabulous than scientific in their approach and documented and classified various animals and birds and other curiosities. But then even the Renaissance texts had enough of the fabulous in them, so much so that the new races discovered in new lands were also illustrated and listed as monstrous curiosities alongside the monstrous births and disabilities. Other sources that have fed, and still feed, my thought and work in this area are the 19th century Freak shows in England and the United States as well as early twentieth century films about scientific management of the labouring body by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.

This kind of an enquiry into the impact of visuals on our perception of ourselves, led to this body of work in 2012 which was primarily focused on a critique of representation of the dis eased body within the field of modern medicine as well as a search for a possibility of another kind of representation which would not reduce this body to a mere object of enquiry, or pity, or revulsion. Within the cold neutralized discourse of modern medicine that  examines, classifies and ostracizes, I was interested in looking at the desiring, thinking subject that this discourse continually tries to deny or rather obliterate.

Image credits: Mahesh Padia

To see the e-catalogue of Painting Dis-ease click here. E-catalogue design by Naquash V.

Making of a Monster by Shefalee Jain, Disability - Art and Culture. Cafe dissensus Issue 17. August 14, 2015. Click here to read.

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