Today, we had to make a presentation on a piece of Deaf Art, or De’VIA (short for Deaf view/image art.) De’VIA came about following a meeting of eight Deaf artists in 1989 at Gallaudet University. The eight penned a manifesto describing what De’VIA art aims to express. The chief difference between De’VIA art and other Deaf Art is that regular Deaf artists are free to create art in any form, media, matter, or subject, but De’VIA artists focus on expressing innate cultural or physical Deaf experience through visual art.
There are three main tendencies: 1) a focus of Deaf perspectives and insights in relation to the natural world or Deaf cultural environment, spiritually or in everyday life; 2) the use of strong colors and contrasting textures to express values and experiences; 3) exaggerations or emphasis on certain facial or bodily features especially hands, eyes, mouth, and ears.
For my presentation, I chose De’VIA artist, Susan Dupor’s 2004 work, entitled “Quiet Woods Forever.” I chose this work because it stood out to me as such a vivid expression of the Deaf experience and seemed to hold incredible hope for the Deaf community.
Susan Dupor was born deaf to a hearing family in Wisconsin, and did not have access to formal language until she was 4. Her artist statement tells of how formative those early years of her life was for her even though she did not have language skills. As a toddler, she often went into to woods to play and learned through touch and sight. As a result, her paintings often depict scenes in nature.
There is a lot of movement in this picture, depicted as a sequence of images. First, there is an older girl giving a young girl a deer skull, something she may have discovered in the woods as a young girl. I surmise that the young girl might be her daughter, and that the giving of the deer skill is a symbol of her handing on the tradition or culture of learning by sight and touch – the Deaf way. The older girl ascends the tree as her hands come together right at the highest point of the tree trunk. This is the sign for “equality” or “justice” and seem to allude to the idea that there is hope for improvement towards equality between the hearing and the Deaf. The young girl is signing as well. She begins with her finger on her forehead, and ends with a sign that looks like the Hawaiian “aloha.” This is the sign for “forever.” But notice that the young girl’s hand actually gets bigger towards the end, again expressing movement and growth for the future. Together, the signs say “justice/ equality, forever.”
The colors on the painting are saturated and bright, signifying light, a key need for the Deaf to thrive, since they are visual people. The young girl is wearing white, signifying her innocence, while the older girl has blue jeans, signifying joy, and blond/ yellow hair, signifying hope. Both primary colors come together to make green – the color of the shirt she is wear, signifying her experience of both in her life.
De’VIA artworks are not only for the Deaf, but also for the hearing to understand Deaf perspectives and experiences. Dupor’s artwork is hopeful, but some others tend to express more darkness, oppression by the hearing, and loneliness. If you’re interested in learning more about De’VIA, do visit Deafart.org for a list of De’VIA artists.