Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely. In this chapter, Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi describes the process for the work “Skinny.”
Making art about Crip bodies has always been an urge to not only explore the meanings of our existence — and the social relationships with others — but also as a deliberate choice for constructing visual and tactile languages to document disability as a cultural phenomenon and familial history.
Rahnee (named used with permission) and I are sisters, not by blood, but by our connections to disability. Our contractured fingers and toes, and our Asian blood, made us sisters. Rahnee is half Thai and half white; I am a Taiwanese. Rahnee has psoriasis and I was born with two fingers and toes.
As a personal assistant, I help Rahnee with personal hygiene, including showering, applying lotions, massaging her skin and dressing. Sometimes I use my finger tips to peel off the excessive skin to relieve Rahnee from her swollen and inflamed skin. I would feel the body fluid rushing out of her skin between my nails and finger tips, then I would massage her skin with a thick layer of lotion. We often talk throughout this process as peer support time: sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, and sometimes we are just exhausted together.
It always felt like I was making sculptural art with Rahnee’s body: our conversations — languaged through strokes of hand — became a part of the stories woven and shared by each other. At the end of each “hygiene-care art” sessions, I would sweep the skin flakes off the bed sheet and on the floor, and form mounds of them before tossing to the bin.
Most of us have taught to see disability as something negative, debilitating, weak, incapable or vulnerable. it is something that people try to get rid of. Peeling and tossing away Rahnee’s skin are actions of relieving her from pain and itch, but are they also metaphors of getting rid of her disability? What does it mean to remove traces of her disabled body? If her skin flakes were evidence of her existence, what does it say about the gesture of throwing piece of her away?
While I contemplated on the questions above, I decided to turn to sewing and made pods to hold pieces of Rahnee’s skin. Disability shapes the way we interact with one another, it reformulates the way people relate and access to another human being which otherwise is absent in the non-disabled world. As a Crip artist of color, having disability and providing care to and making art about another disabled sister is about creating intimacy and Crip sisterhood. Most importantly, it is about preserving and sustaining the existence of my own kind.
Artist: Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi
Material: Human skin flakes, silk organza, sewing thread, embroidery thread and lotion.
Date: 2014 ~ On-going
Photos by Cheng-Chang Kuo
Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi makes small-scale body adornments
exploring the meanings of disabled women’s bodies by remapping the narratives of skin, scars, and medical and surgical interventions on the disabled bodies. Her work examines the potential of art to address the relationship between the body and social standards pertaining to beauty and disability. Her latest project focuses on body reconfiguration through delineating memories of medical and surgical Unexpected Anatomies intervention. Yi received a BFA, and MA in art therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from the University of California Berkeley. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include, Disability Art and Culture, social justice based art therapy, museum studies and disability fashion.