Sep 18, 2017 | By Tess

Australian artist Debra Keenahan is subverting a number of things with her new 3D printed artwork. The artist, who was born with achondroplasia dwarfism, has created a series of life-size 3D printed sculptures of herself which are arranged so that they are looking down on viewers.

(Image: ABC News / Antonette Collins)

Entitled “Little Big Woman: Condescension,” the impressive art piece raises questions about how people with dwarfism are viewed in present society—Keenahan says she is all too familiar with being looked down on, literally, by people she encounters—and how they have been treated and depicted throughout history.

"I will get glances, I will get furtive looks, points, stares, laughter, and sometimes insults and abuse—and all I want to do is just walk down the street,” she says. "My dwarfism does not disable me. What disables me is people's attitudes to the dwarfism.”

The affecting art piece, which will soon be exhibited at The Big Anxiety Festival held at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, was realized in part thanks to both 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies.

Keenahan’s vision was to create sculptures of herself which would both mimic the style of classical sculptures, and capture the condescending/pitying look she says she often receives from people she meets.

"I'm not a child. When this stance is adopted, I know how I'm being viewed and how I'm being spoken to,” she comments. By establishing herself as the one with the condescending look, she is effectively using her art to subvert the gaze that people with dwarfism are often subjected to.

(Image: ABC News / Antonette Collins)

In making the sculptures, Keenahan worked with Louis Pratt, a Sydney-based sculptor who helped to 3D scan Keenahan’s body and head. With the digital scan of the artist, Pratt said they then tweaked certain elements of it to create a series of slightly varying sculpture portraits.

"We manipulated every single scan just a little bit so that they're a little bit different. So one's a little bit higher, one's turning a head a little bit more just to create some nuance,” explains Pratt.

Once the 3D models were prepared, they were segmented into printable parts, which were subsequently 3D printed using a thermoplastic material. Keenahan says that two 3D printers were used and that the entire 3D printing process took six weeks to complete.

Once the printing was finished, the parts were assembled and glued together to create the self-portrait sculptures.

(Image: Debra Keenahan)

Another significant part of Keenahan’s project has involved researching how dwarfism has been treated throughout history, specifically art history. The artist says she even found representations of dwarves dating back to the Egyptian and Mayan periods.

She did notice, however, that there were hardly any female dwarves represented throughout history.

"What I wanted to capture was the whole dynamic of interaction," Keenahan says. "All too often the representation of dwarfism is representing dwarves as on the outer, representing them almost slightly perversely or as pathetic or sad."

By creating the 3D printed sculptures of herself, the artist is not only subverting the gaze between herself (as a dwarf) and people she encounters, she is also putting the female dwarf on central display.

Ultimately, Keenahan hopes her art will help to open up discussions about not only people with dwarfism but about all people living with difference. "My work is about is not the anxiety I experience," she says. "It's the anxiety that others can experience around difference."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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