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Katherine Araniello - disability arts online
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Artist Katherine Araniello’s response to the SMA Poster Campaign with accompanying image / 6 May 2014

In April 2014 three young children were murdered by their mother and the media coverage highlighted the ‘severe degenerative condition’ and thus once again perpetuated the negative stereotype of impairment, which is defined as ‘Spinal Muscular Atrophy’ (SMA). The media focused on their condition and reinforced the medical diagnosis underlining the severity of SMA and the medical requirements associated with this disease including requiring 24 hour care.

I was compelled to respond to this atrocity as both someone with SMA and as an artist and this has not been an easy task. There has been an influx of ‘positive’ images of people with SMA from around the world in a campaign to promote people with SMA as achievers. The strap line is ‘SMA hasn’t stopped me…’ and this is followed by sentiments such as falling in love or getting two degrees, travelling to China etc. On one side is an image of someone with SMA and on the other is the text. The poster campaign follows this standard template.

Images of real people with SMA are interesting, but the positivity ends once the text spells out an explanation as to what the individual has managed to achieve despite having SMA. The counterbalancing of responding to the media’s medical prognosis of SMA in favour of alternative images focusing on an individual with SMA and their accomplishments collapses at the first hurdle.

Producing insipid images of people with SMA and promoting their ‘feats’ as extraordinary,  turns it into a ‘them’ and ‘us’ scenario, which then creates an imbalance and the word inequality replaces equality because we are now encouraged to view people with SMA as ‘special’. Additionally once we view the image of the person with SMA and read the accompanying text, there is limited scope for dialogue/discussion and hence a premature lifespan, precisely like the SMA children that were smothered prevails. If this was the objective of such a poster campaign then it would sit more comfortably with me because artistically and intellectually there is a much broader spectrum to engage with.

The SMA campaign posters successfully elicit a string of compliments, ‘you’re amazing’ and ‘congratulations’ the gaze is fuelled with admiration and subconscious messed up idealistic beliefs that despite SMA ‘they’ do come across as normal just like me – and therefore it’s all okay, and everyone is happy and we can continue to patronise disabled people as we always have and probably always will. Soon that horrid front-page headline of children with SMA killed by their mother will be buried and forgotten, just like those three children.

So I decided to produce an alternative reaction which favours an image that is crude, revolting, abject and is my response to the SMA kiddie killer. I am shifting the media’s perspective on disability and I hope to have initiated thoughts about how we want to be portrayed by society.

My art is to think and rethink –