Art Meets Eyes, Hands & Hearts

Art is a way to STAND for what matters. If you hear, and you've ever marvelled at Marlee Matlin's talent and expression as she communicates in ASL, it may shock you to learn that the language and civil rights of Deaf people are under worse attack at the policy, practice and community levels of America today, than they have been for more than a century. This invisible war waged against people with a culture of strength, self-determination, linguistic, artistic and cultural traditions that are as distinct as any other indigenious culture is deliberately hidden, experienced in a parallel world of continued oppression which the mainstream media refuses to touch. Most Americans are unaware that active efforts by the medical and educational professions to force "cures" and oral education, suppress use of American Sign Language and functionally deny the existence and civil liberties of the Deaf still happens today, in every state of the US! How can it be? It is a direct outgrowth of the views and practices espoused by the misogynist father of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, who despite a Deaf mother and Deaf wife wrote diatribes endorsing eugenics toward Deaf people. Shocking isn't it? We have our very own Hitler, whose poison through an oral "speaking and listening only" educational agenda marginalizes ASL, manipulates vulnerable parents towards infant implantation with cochlear devices, and still places Deaf children today at the active risk of having their hands slapped, held, or being otherwise punished and demeaned for doing the most natural thing ALL children do to communicate: use facial and manual movements. Ironic that we proffer baby sign to hearing families because it enhances cognition and accelerates language skills, while denying the further use of ASL to Deaf children throughout their education.
So why the picture above? In Deaf community, there is a process of coming to understand one's communication difference as an identity of affiliation with a shared culture and struggle, "the People of the Eye"! Deafhood is the transition from seeing ourselves as lacking hearing, to seeing ourselves as constitutionally different, Deaf with all the visual and tactile communication which flows from this fountain. It is not hard for visual artists, actors, dancers and other performers to recognize the point of view on life which blooms from eyes, hands and heart, expressing one's deepest visceral experience. Please check out the blog of artist/activist Patti Durr, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, whose efforts to raise cultural awareness of Deafhood emphasize the rich legacy of Deaf culture and art. She shares about foundational Deaf artist, Betty G. Miller who is featured along with Susan Dupor in Emily Steinberg’s film “Paint it Loud” http://deaftv.bigcartel.com/product/paint-it-loud. I can't wait to see it.

Another wonderful link is Chuck Baird Foundation's gallery page with art by Sara Roybal, who was Deafened by Meniere's as I was. http://chuckbairdfoundation.org/?portfolio_item=sara-roybal-painter
As an art therapist, I can't help but notice we both make reference to the theme of immersion in water. The body knows when it paints, and this truth pours out. Deafhood for me is about no longer forcing my body to fit something it can't do anymore, HEAR. So still, why the picture above?

I am in a new place because of ASL which has fed the thirsty soul, like finding a waterfall of communication after Meniere's exiled me from the country of Hearing. I'm a dizzy Deafugee who oddly returns home to the visual and haptic world of The People of the Eye. I first felt it sitting on the floor of Washington School for the Deaf after a week with voices-off, signing only, while my hearing was half gone. At the end of a week of immersion in silent language, I sat huddled, confused because it felt...like home...and I was without a way to comprehend why. Art is so telling. Hands are for helping, communicating, creating what the heart must show, that ASL is visual music of hands, eyes and heart to me now. If so powerful to me, a Late Deafened arrival, how much more so for Deaf children! Liberty and recognition of civil rights for the current and coming generations of Deaf children is not negotiable. Can Deaf and Hearing STAND together against the lense of denigration or deficit, "audism", and for acknowledgement of ASL which shows that Deaf Americans are creative and competent citizens who as much as any others deserve what our constitution promises: "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?" As we say in Deaf community, "What do you think?"