6 – Disability Representation in Art & Film

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This image is a painting by Frida Kahlo named ‘Broken Column”. Throughout Kahlo’s work she drew a lot of influence from her own body and pain in her life. She stated that “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”, which links to her relationship to her body and the use of herself and her identity in her work. The idea of using your own body in  works such as this, makes for not only a very personal piece, but also one where, at least at first, you are the one with the control over how your body is used and viewed. There is this contrast to how people use their own bodies in their representation of themselves; what they put out into the world and how other people use their bodies or the ideas they have of other people’s bodies to put something very different out there. This is considered somewhat throughout the article by McRuer, wherein the concepts of ‘docile bodies’ (McRuer, 89), as a body that ‘may be subjected, used, transformed and improved’ (McRuer, 89), and the common trope of ‘curing’ disabled characters in media is seen.

The idea of mailable, ‘docile’ bodies presented in media, predominantly written and portrayed by ‘able-bodied’ or non disabled people, makes for a contrasting representation to the way in which possibly artists are and would display themselves. There is a lack of representation in media anyway and the repetition of these tropes is not only incorrect, but dangerous to keep putting out in to society. Especially this idea of a ‘cure’ as it makes it become a norm to perceive disabled people as ‘docile bodies’ which are able to be ‘transformed’ or ‘improved’ (McRuer, 89) and the idea of improvement itself is a dangerous and negative idea.

The painting by and of Kahlo could be said to present a very strong image, one that is undeniably, sad and lonesome, but powerful. The depiction of her alone in a vast landscape, links to the aforementioned quote of her being ‘often alone’ and therefore knowing herself the best. A lot of critics of Kahlo’s work and biographers of her life have written of her having a lonely life, being bedridden a lot because of her pain and therefore her self-portraits present different parts of her identity, often in vivid and different landscapes but almost always alone. The painting, in my mind, although she is depicted as crying, and the column of her spine is somewhat broken, she still looks to have strength with her brace depicted almost like armour and the nails across her body, that could possibly be read as pain from others and the outside society, have not knocked her down yet.

I feel like this theme of loneliness, although here true to her life, can be linked to the stereotypes of disabled people being alone and not having healthy relationships/relationships at all, especially romantic or sexual ones. These stereotypes can be said to come a lot from this lack of representation through places such as mass media. They repeat these tropes such as the ‘pity/hero dichotomy’ and often have villainous characters presenting this lonely anger against an unjust world. These alongside an ‘inspirational’ idea of having people ‘cured’ of their supposed negatively impacting disabilities presents all these almost fantastical views and strays so far from the everyday life of disabled people and a ‘normal’ integration and diversity in media as in reality to work more positively and with variety.

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