Headline: De’VIA 28 Days February Art Challenge: Digging Deaf Memories!
by Carlos Batres
(For picture please see: http://www.nancyrourke.com/paintings/deaf/identitystruggle.jpg )
Which Identity by Nancy Rourke
18x24inch oil on canvas
Recently, the 28 days of February became a challenge for the art movement known as De’VIA. De’VIA stands for Deaf View/Image Art, and is a community of artists who convey the Deaf experience and Deaf culture through their works. This recent challenge, initiated by expressionist artist Nancy Rourke, was designed to engage De’VIA artists to express, through works of resistance and affirmation, their solidarity and activism through art (ARTivism).
For each of the 28 days of the month of February, artists were charged to create a unique work of art based in their own Deaf experiences, and to incorporate the motif assigned by Rourke to each day. Fifty-four participants worked on the challenge project, and produced a total of 661 artworks in only one month! Many members of the community posted their art to the De’VIA Central Facebook page in order to share them.
The challenge elicited from participants new ways to understand their own Deaf culture in space and time, and also facilitated teaching and learning experiences infused with color and excitement, and interconnected with the visual languages of art and ASL (American Sign Language). Such acts of art making, especially painting wherein the images are layered onto one another (in whole or in part) and then peeled back again to result in a beautiful and unique work, are similar in process to archaeology.
And, like an archeologist of the mind, through this process of painting, the artist also delves into the depths of his or her own subconscious, in a Freudian-like manner, becoming in many ways his or her own psychotherapist. Thus, I will employ these metaphors to describe how the artists participating in this De’VIA 28 day February challenge came to express Deaf culture, framed through learning experiences as well as space and time.
Time is used here as a historical chronology to remember eras in which Deaf culture was marginalized by teachings known as oralism and audism, which educate Deaf children trying to assimilate them into the hearing world by banning the use of sign language. The ongoing Deaf struggle for civil liberties, and the triumph of visual signed language (ASL) mark the passage of time in the works of many artists who participated in this challenge, and in the motifs (such as chains and puppets) chosen to signify the historical oppression of Deaf culture. In contrast, the affirmation of ASL in this art (through motifs such as hands), celebrates this unique language, and marks the time through which those in the Deaf culture express their history and experience in their own, native voice.
(for picture please see: http://www.nancyrourke.com/paintings/deaf/artvisual.jpg )
Visualizing by Nancy Rourke
11x14inch oil on canvas
Personal and social spaces appear in the art of this challenge through themes in which technology, such as cochlear implants (CIs) and hearing aids, along with ASL, create semi-permeable boundaries which define spaces of identity and places of belonging. Artists participating in this 28 day challenge, employing motifs like a mirror, a round table, and a door, expressed the way in which individuals often must negotiate between the hearing world and their Deaf identity.
In these artworks, spaces became critical themes representing consciousness about the way an individual identifies as a part of Deaf culture. Rather than viewing deafness as something to be cured or negotiated through technology, the art created during this challenge embraces the concept of “Deafhood” (as coined by Dr. Paddy Ladd) and defines it to include both the personal and social spaces in which being Deaf is an affirmative and positive experience.
In addition, one of the most important goals of this 28 day challenge was to encourage the experience of creating art, and make it available to everyone. Through this process, advanced and novice artists alike learned more about themselves and the Deaf experience. Artists involved in this movement used their art to show not the only the ideas of Deafhood, but also participated in keeping Deaf culture alive and passing it to the next generation.
By creating these new works of art, an interactive relationship of shared ideas through art making facilitated collectiveness through sharing individual works (an inductive process of being true to oneself). And, from the opposite direction, the project fostered a sense of collectiveness through which individual emancipation could then occur (a deductive process of discovering ourselves communally).
Thus, the De’VIA 28 day February challenge acted therapeutically to recover individual and collective memories (in space and time) to reconstruct the Deaf past through individual artworks, communally created in the present. Just as archeologists reconstruct the past to understand its implications in the present and how this present will affect the future, this 28 day challenge reconstructed Deaf history through artistic learning experiences in order to guarantee that the Deaf, ASL voice will always be seen (and heard).
Through the affirmation of this challenge, the Deaf future came to be propelled through different points of view and through different media created by different artists, adding to the Deaf art landscape on which future Deaf communities can continue to build. Congratulations to the talented artists involved in the 28 day February challenge, especially the inspiration for this challenge, Nancy Rourke. And, all of the artists who participated in this challenge are encouraged to continue to be involved in the next De’VIA event, in order to build upon these artistic reconstructions of past experiences, and challenge themselves to further express what it continues to mean to be Deaf in this current, globalized and connected world. And, finally, the reader is challenged to visit the De’VIA Central Facebook page online, and view these incredible works of art first hand. Here you can get a sense of Deaf artists’ experiences, and see their expressions of how deprivation from ASL (sign language) is unnecessary cultural censorship.
(Note to the editor: the artist has given permission for the use of these pictures in the publication of this article.)