Life and Limb exhibition: Disability as a “badge of honour”
Images of American Civil War soldiers whose disabling combat injuries became a “badge of honour” were manipulated by artist, Angel Martin as part of the University of Liverpool’s Life and Limb exhibition.
Launched by Vice Chancellor, Professor Janet Beer, the show combines the US National Library of Medicine travelling exhibition, Life and Limb: the toll of the American Civil War, with original art, rare books and research from both staff and students, to explore the experience of physical trauma and disability suffered by those who fought in the four year conflict.
Badge of honour
Angel Martin, himself an amputee, said: “My reading of the history surrounding the disabled veteran is that they defined themselves by their disability; it became a badge of honour, a clear reference to their sacrifice for a cause they believed in.
“If I am to be classed as disabled in today’s society because I use technology to augment my ability, to willingly become a cyborg, then what does that say about the majority of Western society?
“Almost without exception everyone viewing my work relies on technology to augment their ability with their use of mobile phones, computers, optical glasses etc. On that basis are they too disabled? At what point does the average person differentiate?”
[callout title= ]“Almost without exception everyone viewing my work relies on technology to augment their ability with their use of mobile phones, computers, optical glasses etc. On that basis are they too disabled?[/callout]
Angel said he was most interested in exploring the breadth of technological change, in response to disabling injuries, that had taken place over the 150 years from the conflict to today.
He started with real black and white images of soldiers and hand sketched ideas of how the prosthetic limbs could be adapted with a cyber punk or steampunk style. He then transferred the sketch to his computer to complete.
Angel said: “Unlike most digital artists who use graphics packages such as Photoshop, I use an engineering package. It seemed somehow appropriate to use software designed to create machine parts.”
The completed works, often draped in the colours of the confederacy or union flags, create cyborg like beings for whom assimilation of the technology replacing their limbs appears seamless, even when the imagined prosthetics are large and unwieldy.
The show, including Angel’s images, has been curated by postgraduate students from the Department of History and is open to be viewed by the public at 19 Abercromby Square.
Ideological difference of opinion
The launch event included Wittenburg University’s Professor Robert L Davis discussing poet, icon and medic, Walt Whitman; Emeritus Professor Mick Gidley from University of Leeds on Civil War photography and Newcastle University’s Professor Susan-Mary Grant considered medical modernisation and the conflict; alongside talks from Dr Stephen C. Kenny and Professor David Seed from the University of Liverpool.
Angel added: “All these horrific injuries were inflicted by other human beings based on an ideological difference of opinion. When I see the news today relating to the various conflicts around the world I question why we, as a species, for all our intelligence, haven’t learned from our history.”
Life and Limb: the Toll of the American Civil War will run at 19 Abercromby Square until June 20. For more information, please visit https://www.facebook.com/lifeandlimb or join the conversation on Twitter using #Limb2015.
[callout title=More]US Life and Limb exhibition stops at 19 Abercromby Square[/callout]