De’VIA Posters
De’VIA Timeline

Throughout time art has been created to tell stories and to record information and feelings visually. Disenfranchised Art is art created by groups of people who are deprived of rights and privilege.  Often these groups will choose to express their history, voice, and experiences via visual art.  These expressions can be in the form of celebration and validation of their culture (language, values, norms, heritage, traditions, and possessions).  These works are called affirmation art.

Disenfranchised Art also often will choose to represent and explore issues of oppression and struggles. This work tends to look at the dominant culture’s role in “defining” the disenfranchised group’s rights and identity.  These types of works are called resistance art.

Many works will combine both affirmation and resistance messages within one piece showing evolution in the liberation process .  The sidebar provides us with several different examples of disenfranchised art from different HEARING groups to enjoy and discuss. Disenfranchised groups featured are: Disability art, African-American art, Native American art, Chicano art, and Gay art.

Norval Morrisseau: Native American Art
Robert Mapplethorpe: Gay Art

In 1971, Betty G. Miller began expressing her Deaf experiences through her paintings and drawings. Since then her work has inspired several Deaf visual artists to create work based on their Deaf experiences. These artists often discussed whether or not there was a “Deaf Art” — a genre or school of thought. Starting at Spectrum, Focus on Deaf Artists’ summer festivals in 1977 and 1978, there were formal workshops on the question of Deaf Visual Art, and there have been many lecrdse4tures and workshops since then. Yet, these workshops lasted only an hour or two, and never really came to any formal decision.

Deaf Way provided the opportunity for Betty to facilitate a 4-day workshop at Gallaudet University focussing on the question, “What is Deaf Art?” This workshop, “Expression: American Deaf Art”, held May 25th to 28th, 1989, was co-facilitated by Paul Johnston. There were 9 visual artists involved: Betty G Miller, Ed.D., painter; Paul Johnston, Ph.D., sculptor; Deborah M. Sonnenstrahl, Ph.D., art historian; Chuck Baird, painter; Guy Wonder, sculptor; Alex Wilhite, painter; Sandi Inches-Vasnick, fiber artist; Nancy Creighton, fiber artist; and Lai-Yok Ho, video artist. (Lai-Yok videotaped the entire 4 days of the workshop.) The purpose of the weekend was:

  • to have an in-depth discussion on our experiences as Deaf artists,
  • debate any common elements of Deaf Art,
  • develop a visual manifesto,
  • develop a written manifesto.

The name, De’VIA, evolved out of much discusson on the relative merits of an English or an ASL name. The final name, though a combination of the two, has the natural flow of ASL as the predominate consideration.

Source:Creighton, Nancy. Betty G. Miller. 2005. 29 Nov. 2005

De’VIA represents Deaf artists and perceptions based on their Deaf experiences. It uses formal art elements with the intention of expressing innate cultural or physical Deaf experience. These experiences may include Deaf metaphors, Deaf perspectives, and Deaf insight in relationship with the environment (both the natural world and Deaf cultural environment), spiritual and everyday life.

De’VIA can be identified by formal elements such as Deaf artists’ possible tendency to use contrasting colors and values, intense colors, contrasting textures. It may also most often include a centralized focus, with exaggeration or emphasis on facial features, especially eyes, mouths, ears, and hands. Currently, Deaf artists tend to work in human scale with these exaggerations, and not exaggerate the space around these elements.

There is a difference between Deaf artists and De’VIA. Deaf artists are those who use art in any form, media, or subject matter, and who are held to the same artistic standards as other artists. De’VIA is created when the artist intends to express their Deaf experience through visual art. De’VIA may also be created by deafened or hearing artists, if the intention is to create work that is born of their Deaf experience (a possible example would be a hearing child of Deaf parents). It is clearly possible for Deaf artists not to work in the area of De’VIA.

While applied and decorative arts may also use the qualities of De’VIA (high contrast, centralized focus, exaggeration of specific features), this manifesto is specifically written to cover the traditional fields of visual fine arts (painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, printmaking) as well as alternative media when used as fine arts such as fiber arts, ceramics, neon, and collage.

Created in May, 1989, at The Deaf Way.

The signatories were:
Dr. Betty G. Miller, painter; Dr. Paul Johnston, sculptor; Dr. Deborah M. Sonnenstrahl, art historian; Chuck Baird, painter; Guy Wonder, sculptor; Alex Wilhite, painter; Sandi Inches Vasnick, fiber artist; Nancy Creighton, fiber artist; and Lai-Yok Ho, video artist.

Source:Creighton, Nancy. Betty G. Miller. 2005. 29 Nov. 2005

Deaf Culture Art Website
Archived De’VIA Site