Visable by Larry Dunstan

vis a vis disability

Larry Dunstan

The Singapore Fringe Website had this to describe the work:

Larry Dunstan’s photography centres on notions of beauty and perceptions of what are stereotypically seen as ‘normal’. Of the various pictures, some are photographs of disabled people and some are of able-bodied people that have been made to look as if they may be disabled. By juxtaposing these pictures, Larry questions prejudices by forcing viewers to ask themselves how they view people. Larry also seeks to explore how disabled people are represented in popular culture media such as advertising and fashion. His works mimic fashion photography in his layout, styling and poses.

The large inklet prints, mounted on compressed foam are pretty much in your face. The uneven lighting doesn’t do the photographs justice, was my first thought as I’d walked from picture to picture, identifying the ‘disability’. It then occured to me that the word ‘disability’ needed different reference points.

To most Singaporeans, being abled as opposed to being disabled is usually defined by insurance policies and its contraries, and MINDEF Physical Employment Standards (PES) status. It is often taken for granted and any converses mis-understood.

I thought the treatment of the pictures taken were quite fashionable, like what you will find in lifestyle magazines. Aren’t they?

Fashion. Able.

By dissecting the word ‘fashionable’, we can understand an inherent discomfort when we view the work. We are used to seeing pretty, usually skinny models for advertisements, but not those seen here. The artist has chosen to parade their appearances, celebrating their physical disability. Or are the models being made use of?

The only criticism I have is the power play between the photographer and model. A good reference will be Diana Arbus, famous for her mental or physically handicapped series of photographs. Did the photographed have a say in the composition and mood of the image? Did Arbus understand the shock, sensational value of her work that draws her audience? Can the idea of ‘freak’ and ‘beauty’ ever be reconciled? When and where can one look beyond the disability and find other abilities, like what Singapore’s Very Special Arts tries to engage with?

I think this work really provokes the audience to consider their own position and views of disability. Coincidental enough, the Straits Time feature story on January 20, 2007 Saturday is about social workers in Singapore, professionals that help Singaporeans cope with living and moving on, disability or limited ability. Disability comes in many forms, not just what is on exhibit. Prejudice runs deeper when we examine ourselves. Not contributing to the community, even in littlest ways, and being uncaring is perhaps a disability we should face and do something about.

Larry Dunstan

7 of 10 stars

Esplanade Tunnel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s