Critical disability aesthetics - relational dynamics and the embodied experience of a female dwarf

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Copyright: Keenahan, Debra
This thesis develops the concept of Critical Disability Aesthetics. Critical Disability Aesthetics extends upon the current conceptualisation of Disability Aesthetics developed by Tobin Siebers. I argue that Disability Aesthetics adheres to a restrictive definition of the term aesthetics anchored in the judgement of beauty, whilst Critical Disability Aesthetics explores the broader sense of aesthetics as a sensory-affective process. This framework provides a conceptual grounding for a practice-based exploration of the embodied dimensions of lived experience. As an artist with achondroplasia dwarfism, I explore the experience of corporeal difference from a subjective position. My practice examines the framing of disability but also the embodied social interactions of a female dwarf. In my art practice I deploy different media to elaborate various dimensions of this experience, beginning with a series of photographs, “Take a Look at THAT!”, documenting the micro aggressions that confront a person with dwarfism in the act of walking down the street. Then a sculptural work, Little Big Woman: Condescension, that considers the dynamics of an objectifying gaze. From these works, I move into practice that embodies unfolding psychosocial dynamics in a public environment. In Awkward Conversations I offer members of the public the opportunity to walk with me in public. In the Virtual Reality experience, Being Debra, I construct a first-person narrative whereby the story unfolds from my embodied perspective – both in the present and in a series of flashbacks. The thesis demonstrates via this body of artwork, how Critical Disability Aesthetics can advance understanding of the subjective and intersubjective experience of ‘disability’, which is not a quality of the subject but rather, arises within a social nexus.
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PhD Doctorate
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