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By Courtney DiPietro
Being artistic reveals creative skills that most people can identify with in some way, shape, or form. For Deaf and hard of hearing people, Artistic Signing has been influential in creating art that has not only been inspirational, but has also created educational and professional opportunities. Deaf organizations promote these opportunities, establishing the Deaf culture in a predominately hearing world and aim to raise awareness through art and entertainment. Artistic signing as a ‘space’ for Deaf Artists is evident in many facets of life for the Deaf, and established terms such as De’VIA (Deaf View/ Image Art) has provided insight into the experiences of Artistic Signing.
There are a wide variety of Deaf Art organizations and programs. Shape Arts is one organization which aims to promote arts and culture, extend access to the arts, and help create opportunities for employment in the Deaf communities. They establish trainings through agencies and courses including but not limited to Deaf Theatre and Deaf Visual Arts Exhibitions. Another noteworthy organization is Invisible Hands International (IHI). A Washington D.C. based non-profit organization with similar visions. Fred Michael Beam is the founder of IHI and has helped pave the way for many artists and dance companies such as The Wild Zappers and the No Words Dance Team. Deaf art is not something that is meant solely for a deaf audience, however its significance to them is evident and special. (Beam, 2011).
Deaf Art has a purpose and “points towards the fact that ‘art’ is a space for the individual to address certain issues, be they emotional, political or cultural.” (Forbes-Robertson, 2004). Just as the use of facial expressions in signing portray emotion, expressions in Deaf music, theater, poetry, writing, and visual art all radiate the emotions that although can not be heard, are easily felt through sight, touch, and vibrations. Another purpose is using art as therapeutic space for healing which has benefitted not only Deaf people, but also many others. Artistic Signing is also a good outlet for the anger and frustration often felt among the Deaf and is another way to communicate those feelings.
De’VIA is a term used to describe the division between art by a Deaf person, and art about the Deaf experience. Betty G. Miller is one of the first Deaf American artists to create art about the Deaf experience, and her work has been known to “enlighten Deaf and hearing observers by presenting experiences reflective of a Deaf person’s world view.” (Miller, Betty G.,1989). Although some art produced as De’VIA is resistance art, it has provided many influential works of art that are very relatable to many Deaf observers. Pieces like “Ameslan Prohibited” by Betty G. Miller shows a graphic image of broken hands chained together which represents the fact that the inability to use sign language enslaves the Deaf person and ultimately leaves them disabled. An experience that only a Deaf person can feel and relate to, proving that Artistic Signing can make a powerful statement and influence. (Durr, 2006)
Applying artistic abilities in art, music, theater, or expression of any kind has no limitations to anyone at all. It has an all inclusive nature that brings people of all cultures, identities, and abilities together which provides a space for one to thrive in both individually and as a whole in society. “It all works together: my work is really art and art is really about identity — and identity, for me, is really about being Deaf.” (Silver, 1999) Artistic Signing has proven it’s worth, and is a great asset to Deaf people and to Deaf cultures worldwide.
Forbes-Robertson, Amy (2004). Centre for Deaf Studies. Deaf Art: What For?. Chapter 5.1, Pg. 139
Durr, Patti (2006). De’VIA: Investigating Deaf Visual Art. Deaf Studies Today!. Volume 2 2006.
Silver, Ann (Fall 1999). "My Experience as an Artist Vis-à-vis Deaf Art." Visual Anthropology Review 15.2 : Pgs.37-46
www.rit.edu, Rochester Institute of Technology., deaf art/deaf artists
www.invisiblehands.com/about., Fred Michael Beam
Also see: Deaf Entertainment and Art
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