Mary Duffy

As an example of a disabled artist re-appropriating her body, Davis cites the work of Mary Duffy, Cutting the Ties That Bind.

By confronting people with my naked body, with its softness, its roundness and its threat I wanted to take control, redress the balance in which media representation of disabled woman is usually tragic, always pathetic. I wanted to hold up a mirror all those people who had stripped me bare previously … the general public with their naked stares, and more especially, the medical profession” (cited in Davis 2004, p 63). The disabled body, turned to stone by the gaze of the ‘normal’ spectator in a reversal of the Medusa petrifaction, is released in a triumphant shedding of the veil, a reappropriation of the flesh-subject. At one stage her body is reminiscent of the Milo Venus, dramatically lit to emphasise its statuesque, marmoreal form. This reveals the hypocrisy underlying the idea that a human without arms is not beautiful but an armless statue is regaled as the paragon of classical (female) beauty! Kirkpatrick believes that society’s striving for bodily perfection makes us recoil from a living Venus de Milo, possibly afraid of “contamination by association“.

Duffy is quoted as stating: “My work is an exploration of difference and all that it implies — deviance, death, deformity, distrust, dismay — and also of delight, wonder, variety, inventiveness, creativity and uniqueness. It is a statement about and with my body. A body which does not have quite all the pieces to fit the human jigsaw, and is therefore not always considered whole” (Kirkpatrick 1998, n.p.).

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