Go See “Out from Under”

Braille watchToday (or I guess technically yesterday) I took a great tour of the exhibition Out from Under with one of the curators of the exhibit, Catherine Frazee. It was a wowser, and I was appropriately wowed. The exhibition, at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, consists of 13 remembered objects, each chosen by a participant in a seminar run by several of the curators, and each telling us a small part of the history of disability. Included is the watch depicted here, which belonged to Mae Brown, the first deaf-blind Canadian to graduate with a university degree. (Small prizes for those who know in what year she graduated.) The exhibit has some affinities with the book that Sherry Turkle from MIT recently published, Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, a collection of reflections on everyday objects that evoke memories, feelings, and reflections from some Very Smart People. What I really liked about Out from Under was the brevity and arrangement of the everyday objects from the lives of those with disabilities, and the stories that each told, whether it be one of the unpaid labour of institutionalized women, the trunks that signalled the transience and disposability of those who were placed in various forms of non-parental care, or the newspaper reports of the suspicious deaths of infants with disabilities from the early 1980s, echoes of which can be heard in the recent Annie Farlow caes that Dick Sobsey has recently blogged about here. There were further layers to the stories of many of these objects, and the contributors and curators have done an amazing job of constructing snapshots of a history that hasn’t really been told in a way that connects powerfully with the emotions. I was impressed by the number of people who were slowly going through the exhibition, sometimes thinking aloud, and seemingly lost in thought or feeling.

Either the exhibition, which runs until Friday, July 11th, or the book, which is available in limited quantities (limited to how many they can sell, I guess), are good brain food. Feed yourself!

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One thought on “Go See “Out from Under”

  1. I too took in Out From Under while I was in Toronto. Unfortunately, my experience wasn’t as positive. I guess there were some provisions made so that blind people could enjoy the exhibit (objects available to touch and so on), but we were not made aware of this, and our inquiries at the front desk revealed nothing. One of the friends I went with uses a wheelchair, and we ended up getting stuck in the service elevator we were told to take. So there were some accessibility problems, which was particularly disappointing given the content of the exhibit. I ended up finding the experience sort of unsatisfying though certainly still thought provoking.

    However, I went back to the museum to listen to a talk on the accessibility of museums to blind people, and this time, a few of the curators were present, and so some of the objects were made available to touch. I got more out of this second run through the exhibit. Unfortunately, the staff didn’t seem to have much training in assisting blind people, but I’m sort of used to that.

    A question that I was left with is who is this exhibit for? If the goal was to reach a broad audience who is unfamiliar with this history, then the Royal Ontario Museum was probably the right venue. If the goal was to make the exhibit as accessible as possible, I’m not sure if it was the best choice.

    I believe she graduated in 1974, but it was more than a month ago that I attended, and I haven’t googled it, so I’m not completely sure.

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