The Disability Gaze: Material and Visual Approaches

When and Where

Friday, April 29, 2022 9:00 am to Saturday, April 30, 2022 5:00 pm
Virtual and In-Person (University of Delaware)


Riva Lehrer


The Disability Gaze: Material and Visual Approaches 

University of Delaware 

April 29-30, 2022

Submission Deadline: September 15, 2021

Join IHPST alumna Jai Virdi, co-organizer of the third biennial conference of the Center for Material Culture Studies (CMCS) at the University of Delaware. The organizers invite proposals for “The Disability Gaze: Material and Visual Approaches.” 

Confirmed keynote speaker is Riva Lehrer, artist, writer, and curator who powerfully addresses the socially-challenged body across her works from painted portraits to her award-winning memoir Golem Girl.

“The body of the artist leaks into the body of the subject.”

-Riva Lehrer, Golem Girl (2020)


How does being disabled change the ways people view the world and the things they create? What generative possibilities does disability provoke? Valuable scholarship has explored disabled people as objects of vision and charted the phenomenon of staring which historically cast them as “curiosities,” “freaks,” and as “other.” “The Disability Gaze” will address the opposite phenomenon, considering disabled people as subjects and the power of their gazes as they claim and assert their own performance, identity, and even citizenship. Such assertions happen across representational forms, and this conference asks how physical and mental conditions inform the work of artists, designers, authors, performers, and prosthetic users. In what ways have disabled people shaped representations of themselves in images, objects/artifacts, and literature? What kinds of subjecthood have been produced at the intersections of disability and materiality? How have artists incorporated assistive devices or prostheses in their framing of self? We ask participants to consider how the disability gaze creates objects of visual and material culture and in doing so asserts disabled people’s subjectivity. This conference seeks, through an interdisciplinary and material culture approach, to reclaim the disability gaze as it extends into lived experience.


Topics/Areas may include but are not limited to: 

  • how disabled people have portrayed themselves 
  • negotiated modes of picturing disability in art and literature
  • creation of empathy through representation 
  • designed objects and artifacts of technology 
  • advertisements and ephemera targeted at disabled users
  • contemporary and performance artists’ responses to disability
  • theoretical frameworks of the “disability gaze”
  • decolonizing disabled stories and identities


We invite submissions from graduate students, emerging, and established scholars in all disciplines—including art history, consumer studies, design history, disability studies, history, history of science, technology and medicine, media studies, literary studies, material culture studies, and visual culture studies. We welcome proposals from any historical period and national/linguistic tradition; we also invite creative and collaborative submissions. Further details available on the website


The symposium will take place on April 29-30, 2022, virtually and in-person at the University of Delaware. Please send abstracts of max. 300 words (up to two relevant images are welcome), with a brief CV of no more than two pages, by September 15, 2021 to


Organized by Professors Jaipreet Virdi (History) and Jennifer Van Horn (Art History and History).