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Celebrating Human Variance


October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month: a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present and to showcase supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices.

On October 9th, RISD Museum concluded its own celebration of disability with the closing of the nine-month exhibition Variance—a collection of works which asks viewers to consider how disability and illness are embodied and experienced, and how they have been represented by artists and deployed as visual tropes. Curated by Assistant Curator for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Conor Moynihan (pictured above), the exhibition highlighted how disability is made, unmade, and remade towards new ends.

“Everyone knows the word disability, but when you start to talk about representation of disability, it’s not as widely recognized,” shared Conor. “Through the selected works, the goal of the exhibition was to provide a lesson in learning to recognize disability when you see it, and I believe we were successful in doing so.”

Conor has spent a good part of his academic and professional career focused on this particular topic, having previously curated an exhibition prior to his time at RISD called Ill at Ease—an endeavor that enabled him to take a closer look at the subject matter and created the pathway that led to Variance.

“One of my favorite takeaways from the show, was that it allowed people to better understand their bodies, whether they are disabled or not. It gave viewers pause to consider, “I experience X, could I be in this show? Would I be part of this form of representation? And because of this, the work felt very inclusive and expanding,” said Conor.

While this exhibition is no longer on view, be sure to check out Manual 17the accessible digital publication, to learn more about this important work.