Debra Keenahan, an Australian artist, uses life-sized 3D printed sculptures of herself to make a statement about how society views achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. Rather than seeing dwarfism as a disability, assuming that they are incapable, or unintelligent, Keenahan wants to confront the issues about her condition. As a person with achondroplasia, “I will get glances, I will get furtive looks, points, stares, laughter, and sometimes insults and abuse. And all I want to do is just walk down the street,” Keenahan said. “My dwarfism does not disable me. What disables me are people’s attitudes to the dwarfism.” To allow her audience to gain a different perspective, she calls her life-sized sculptures “Little Big Woman: Condescension”, which is currently being displayed at The Big Anxiety Festival at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum in Australia. Her vision was to have the sculptures imitate the expressions of pity or condescension that she often receives from people she meets. “I’m not a child. When this stance is adopted, I know how I’m being viewed and how I’m being spoken to. What I wanted to do was to change that dynamic and reverse it,” Keenahan said.
She wants to bring awareness to dwarfism and help people to understand what it’s like to be “viewed” as an object. Keenahan worked with Sydney sculptor, Louis Pratt, to help her put the pieces together. He 3D scanned her body and helped to change a few facial expressions to “create some nuance,” Pratt said.
Throughout history, you don’t see much representation of dwarfism in the arts, especially during the Egyptian and Mayan times. “I wanted to capture the whole dynamic of interaction. All too often the representation of dwarfism is representing dwarves as on the outer, representing them almost slightly perversely or as pathetic or sad,” Keenahan said. As her sculptures look back at her audience, Keenahan hopes to start a conversation about dwarfism and living comfortably with difference. She encourages her audience to be more understanding and to not look at dwarfs in pity but with respect. If there’s one take away that Keenahan wants to convey to her audience is that, “My work is not about the anxiety I experience. It’s the anxiety that others can experience around what is different.”
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