carole cluer

Art, hope and self acceptance

Tag: disfigurement

UnBroken – Contemporary Kintsugi

I have written before about my love of the Japan craft of repair called kintsugi, if anyone is interested I have a page dedicated to it here.

For me it is the perfect combination of skill and endeavour, the search for perfection and the acceptance of imperfection.

It has a beauty that is dependent on the very faults it seeks to repair, not by hiding those cracks but by celebrating them as part of the life of the bowl.

The question was how to make such an ancient craft my own.

It has been such an influence in the whole of my practice it seemed important to include it in my final exhibition, the question was how. I had been experimenting with throwing bowls that I then scarred myself but they lacked the history of a repaired object.

I wanted an object that everyone could identify with and inspired by British artist Lubaina Himid’s  use of  blue and white china I decided to use it. I am sure we have all eaten off of a blue and white plate, if not at home then at our grandparents or in a quaint tea room. They may not be to our taste but they are part of our lives so I hoped we could all identify with them. Also we all have had experience of breaking a cup or a plate and throwing it away without a second thought.

My plates are not joined perfectly, the cracks have been widened, placing them under stress before repair.

They are healed but altered.

Finally rather than gold I gilded them with graphite pencil after all it has been pencil rather than gold that has healed me.

I placed them alongside my self portrait at scar level to draw your eye along towards the book where the plates echo the round ink dots, each of which represent a broken and altered life.

The title, Unbroken, draws from the definition of maintaining spirit and resilience, of surviving, and a more playful, and grammatically incorrect!, un broken as in repaired.

“Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect”         

                                                                                                                              Richard Powell                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Self Portrait

For the last eighteen months I have been drawing portraits of people with scars. I have wanted them to be a celebration of imperfection and a counter to what sometimes gets mistaken for society, you know the magazines and films where the already surgically perfected get airbrushed into impossible proportions. There is a unique and geniune beauty about someone who has lived a life and who has come to accept what that life has made them, who accepts all the physical and emotional scars that life has drawn across their body and soul as proof of a journey taken.  I have always known that I am interested in this because of the many scars I have and how difficult I find applying this philosophy personally – I find I am always less tolerant with myself than others.

Anyway, I soon began to realise that each portrait I drew had an element of self portrait in it, I was circling around something I was too scared to execute.  All those wonderful people who agreed to let me draw them were so much braver than me.

At Christmas I drew my first self portrait, it was for my Jan assessment so when it came to having to display it I chose a dark corner in the basement of our studios and hoped no one would notice it. It made me feel physically sick to show it.  I  soon realised it was a pretty bad drawing, I was so scared of  actually looking at myself Ihad rushed it so when it came to deciding what to do for my final degree show I knew I had to redraw it – properly this time.

I have taken twice as long to draw this picture than I usually do, really focusing on each centimetre. In the next few days I have got to hang it in the gallery, that is going to be the toughest bit and I am  not sure how late I will leave it.  A scar isn’t just a mark  on your skin it is the story of a moment in your life. For me, my scar represents what I hate the most about myself, the fear that keeps me awake at night and is the thing that somehow makes me feel ashamed, I can’t quite believe I am going to stick it on a wall and let people see it – let people judge me.  I have to remind myself that it also represents what I feel most proud about myself, what I have endured and survived and the example I want to show my daughter and son.

If I feel like this it might seem weird to you that I am posting this, but I am just sitting in my study typing, alone, this is me just dipping my toe into the water, any reactions are distant and removed. Real life begins on the 1st of June when the exhibition opens.

Its not the best photo but I hope you can see it well enough,it’s a little over life sized and I have framed it with glass so that the viewer can see their reflection over the drawing

Beauty – only skin deep?

A lot of my work is concerned with how our appearance affects the way we think about ourselves so I do spend time thinking about how this notion of beauty has shaped our world. Although I have never considered myself beautiful I have had to adjust my own view of myself as surgery and age has changed me, life traces the passage of time over all our bodies and if we are to remain content with ourselves we have to learn to accept those changes.

We have all grown up hearing phrases  like ‘ugly as sin’ and listening to fairy stories like Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, where the hero/heroines are beautiful and the ugly are there to be punished or redeemed. In the past women have been disfigured and restricted by conventions that demanded corsets and foot binding and it is a shame that today when women in the west have more freedom than ever that so many feel it necessary to starve themselves and undergo surgery.

The trouble is beauty can now be bought, cosmetics, dyes, surgery, dieting can create a facsimile of perfection.  It is interchangeable with success, if the rich and successful are beautiful then by becoming beautiful riches and success will follow. It is used to promote and sell, it is a commodity to exploit.

It would be lovely to think that how you look doesn’t make a difference but you only have to remember back to your school days to know that the beautiful are treated differently, the groups of pretty popular teenagers to whom life seems to come so easily and the groups of awkward plain young people who have already learnt that they have more to prove in life. What is sad though is in a recent worldwide survey only 2 % of women stated they believed themselves to be beautiful.[1]

When we view the rest of the world through the filter of the airbrush then its understandable that our own image will be less perfect and as long as beauty is epitomised by the absence of imperfection then we are all doomed to fall short of that standard.

With medical advances enabling those with disabilities and deformities to live the variety of the human body is only going to widen, if we are to evolve into a happier and more content society then we need to find a way that allows beauty to encompass that variety.

We need to embrace the imperfections that life writes across our bodies. The notion of beauty fundamentally affects how we view the body, others and our own and it has been used to exclude and control but there is hope that it can become inclusive and celebratory because ultimately it is us who write the guidlines.

Here are links to a couple of interesting websites

Changing Faces is a charity that works to promote equality and acceptance for those with facial disfigurement. The whole site is interesting but try taking their face equality survey and see how accepting you are.

http://www.changingfaces.org.uk/Face-Equality/Take-the-face-equality-survey

The Face Research Lab which is has online psychology experiments that judge the facial traits people find attractive and programme for you to create your perfect/average face

http://www.facelab.org


[1] Nancy Etcoff. ‘The Real Truth about Beauty: A Global Report’, Dove White Paper, (2004)                    

<http://www.clubofamsterdam.com/contentarticles/52%20Beauty/dove_white_paper_final.pdf&gt; [accessed 20 March 2011]