A review of Emily Rapp Black's book, 'Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg'

Sophia Stewart reviewed Emily Rapp Black’s new book, ‘Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg’ for Hyperallergic:

The question that propels Emily Rapp Black’s Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg is simple and self-implicating: “Why do we (I) love Frida?” Throughout the book’s fourteen loosely-linked essays, Black lays claim to Kahlo for unique reason: like the painter became later in life, Black is an amputee, and both women’s lives were shaped by physical disability. In her youth, the author formed what she calls “the perfect imaginary friendship” with Kahlo. “I chose to try and understand the story of her body as a way of knowing or accessing mine,” Black writes, “as if the story of her life set out a path or trail that, no matter how difficult, I might follow.” Latching onto public figures like this is common among young disabled people, who are desperate to find other people in the world like us, to trace a possible road map for our own lives. Still Black admits the limits of an attachment to a woman who “lives only in the terrain of my imagination where I set all the terms of the story.”

But what about the rest of Kahlo’s legion of fans? Few, if any, other artists have become objects of such intense parasocial affection. Kahlo’s disembodied likeness adorns lipsticks, coasters, aprons, magnets, leggings, notebooks, keychains, backpacks, even Christmas ornaments. (Full disclosure: I have previously owned a Kahlo-emblazoned pencil case, t-shirt, pair of socks, and sticky-note pad; I still display her “Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair” in my bedroom.) Surely the outspoken communist would have abhorred the commercialization of her image and art. But what would she make of how her life has been interpreted, packaged, and flattened by her own admirers?

Hero worship is commonplace with the ever-evolving popularity of social media and the need to show the world and fellow fans that they love their fave and they’re better than yours. But with that adulation comes problematic behaviours, misguided quotes, and misunderstood ideologies. Frida Kahlo is no exception.

Panteha Abareshi on Ableism in the Art World

Filling the Void: Confronting Ableism in the Art Space

Ableism is a serious issue in all aspects of life and in Panteha Abareshi’s Filling the Void: Confronting Ableism in the Art Space, she will examine it within the art world.

In an email to Hyperallergic, she discussed the reality of accessibility and ableism within the industry:

“We are currently unable to realistically conceive of real, integrated accessibility, because of how deeply ableism permeates. I will be focusing not on giving cut-and-dry solutions to inaccessibility, but rather delving deeply into ableism as something we are all compliant within, and my personal experience as an ill/disabled body navigating an ableist world.”

Over two sessions (22nd-23rd August), Abareshi will “confront the complex systems of ableism that operate within the art space with presentations and an open forum via Google Meet. On 23rd, she will introduce work by disabled artists alongside her Abareshi’s own to answer the question: “how are able-bodied artists and the art world perpetuating an erasure of artists and audiences with disabilities?”

To find out how to join the sessions, head to the Institute of Contemporary Art website for more info.

Alternatives to ableist terms

(Content warning: this article contains ableist slurs for the purposes of definitions)

We all know how language can evolve beyond our control. The word ‘literally’ can now mean the opposite, for example. But there are words that we use that have negative connotations.

The word ‘crazy’ used to mean ‘to be sickly and infirm’ back in the 1500’s but its meaning changed to ‘insane’ or demented’ a century later. In the 20th and 21st century, it became a colloquial term to describe something that was ‘unexpected’. But that change in use doesn’t make it okay in non-derogatory ways.

What is ableism?

Ableism is a form of discrimination against disabled people or those perceived to have disabilities. An example of ableism could be:

  • Calling someone ‘mental’ for leaving their door unlocked
  • Building difficult-to-read fonts
  • Creating a movie without audio descriptions or closed captions

Using ableist terms is a common form of ableism because of our dependence on media and conversation. Words like ‘crazy’, ‘stupid’, or ‘mental’ are still weaponised against people with mental illnesses and reinforce centuries of stigma.

Given the English language’s penchant for stolen—sorry, ‘loan’ words—there are plenty you can use in replacement of these terms. Here are some alternatives.

Note: context is key so some alternatives might not make sense for the same words. That’s for you to decide. These lists are also:

  1. Non-exhaustive
  2. Imperfect

So if I’ve included a term that is considered ableist and you have a better alternative, let me know in the comments and I’ll remove it. Nobody is above reproach regarding ableism and it’s all about doing better by people.

Are “idiot” and “moron” ableist?

Yes, they are but in varying degrees.

Here’s what disability activist and Paralympic medalist Elizabeth Wright had to say on the term “moron”:

Moron is a term attributed to Henry H. Goddard who was a psychologist and, perhaps most disturbingly, a eugenicist. He came up with the term to describe someone who was “feeble-minded.” According to MuseumHack, Goddard felt that the term “feeble-minded” wasn’t scientific enough, so he had to come up with his own.

From this point the history of moron gets even more disturbing. Remember Goddard was a prominent eugenicist at the time… he had his word, so he now had to figure out how to classify between people who he perceived to be intelligent or not. The tests that he came up with resulted in a stack of people, namely immigrants, being labelled as morons. This included Jews, Italians, and Hungarians.

Goddard decided that the best way forward was to sterilise people he identified as morons. Essentially anyone who was offensive or deemed “unfit” could and would be sterilised.

And for idiot:

Stepping right back into the history books, the origins of the term idiot are not that questionable. In fact the word idiot etymologically derives from the Greek word idiotes meaning “private person.” It was a term used to describe someone who kept their affairs to themselves.

In later years the word passed into Latin, becoming idiota. It is here that we start to see the problematic connotations of the word; it became synonymous with “ignorant person.” This meaning passed with the term throughout history, resulting in our use of it today to mean someone we perceive as being ignorant or stupid. You can read more about the history of the word idiot here — Tales of Times Forgotten.

I use the word idiot every day. I use it to describe myself sometimes and other people a lot. It is almost like a slip of the tongue, a common word in my linguistic insults dictionary. This one will be the hardest to stop using because it is literally everywhere.

Alternatives to crazy/mental/nuts

  • wild
  • unreal
  • incredible
  • bizarre
  • ridiculous
  • absurd
  • comical
  • farcical
  • silly
  • ludicrous
  • foolish
  • nonsensical
  • outrageous
  • shocking
  • astonishing
  • unbelievable
  • unthinkable

Alternatives to stupid

  • asinine
  • banal
  • clueless
  • fatuous
  • foolish
  • frivolous
  • gullible
  • ignorant
  • inept
  • insipid
  • irrational
  • misguided
  • misinformed
  • mistaken
  • naïve
  • oblivious
  • obtuse
  • uninformed
  • unwise
  • vacuous
  • vapid
  • wrong

Alternatives to idiot/moron/cretin

  • fool
  • asshole/arsehole
  • chump
  • jackass
  • jerk
  • melt
  • silly-billy
  • wally
  • git
  • muppet
  • tit
  • turkey
  • goofball
  • goof

Further reading