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Dislec sick?

A review of Rosie and Elizabeth White’s recent exhibition

Bowen Galleries, Wellington
5 May - 23 May 2009

 

Eighteen large school bags line the walls in Bowen Galleries’ front room. The bags are hand-stitched, made from cotton and tulle, quilted and boned and embroidered with fragments of text. They hang head high, taking adults back to the cloakroom and suggesting we are once more that height when the real world was always tantalisingly just out of reach. Wellington textile artists Rosie and Elizabeth White have made us small again, the school bags larger, more beautiful and transparent, and significant in a new way.

Each bag depicts something which has been said about dyslexia. ‘The reason your children have difficulty in school is because of the way you communicate’ features on one, quoting a school principal. The statements are hard to read, partially obscured by the fabric detailing, emphasising the experience of someone with reading difficulty. Above the bags runs a line of text: ‘My gift of dyslexia is my gift, it no longer holds me back, it inspires me’. Comprising individual paper panels of smaller text, it is initially hard to read close-up. Legibility increases as you step back from the wall, having experienced a taste of the disorientation a less than competent reader may have to cope with every day.

What this exhibition does best is bring some painful content into the light of productive discussion, the kind of discussion in whichthat as artists, thinkers, readers and teachers we should all feel compelled to join in. Its strength is in the message it conveys rather than the immediate visual experience, which relies on the artists’ technical virtuosity rather than any conceptual innovation. It will be interesting to see where these artists take their practice next; here the form is somewhat subsumed in the content. While strategic in the use of symbol and in the textile/text play, the way these strategies are employed deserves further investigation.

Dislec sick? confronts the difficulties faced by those suffering from dyslexia, a condition which makes it extremely challenging to learn to read. Rosie and her daughter Elisabeth (currently studying spatial design at Massey’s College of Creative Arts in Wellington) share a talent for textiles, and also a family with three dyslexic members. The work considers the endurance demanded of such individuals, denigrates the humiliation often inflicted by an education system and society that too often fails to understand, and not least celebrates the triumph of those who live with and indeed overcome these challenges.

 

Reviewed and written by Abby Cunnane

 

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