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by Kathleen McDougal, Leslie Swartz, and Amerllia van der Merwe
Human Sciences Research Council, 2006
Review by Christian Perring on Jul 14th 2008

Zip Zip My Brain Harts

Angela Buckland is a South African photographer whose son Nikki is disabled.  Zip Zip My Brain Harts is a collection of photographs showing Nikki and depicting some aspects of being the mother of a disabled child, along with text by three academics.  The photos are grouped in different projects separated by text.  The projects are

  • Dysmorphic Series
  • Stickytape Juice Collection
  • Where's Nikki
  • Shadow Catching

The photography is innovative and interesting. Most of it is in black and white but the second project is in color.  Stickytape Juice Collection shows some of the clothes that Buckland has made for Nikki to accommodate his disability; this is evocative and touching.  The first project, Dysmorphic Series, superimposes X-rays with pictures of his head or body, and thus juxtaposes the medical and human approaches to disability.  Where's Nikki comes in two parts: there is the complete installation, 28 pictures over 2 pages, in 7 columns, exemplifying 7 stages of reaction to news of disability: shock, loss/grief, rage, confusion, relief, acceptance, and hope, clearly modeled on Kubler-Ross's seven stages of reaction to a diagnosis of terminal disease.  It is a disappointment that these images are displayed in such small format, since this is a major work and it would be good to see them larger.  Some of them do appear in the second part of the Where's Nikki project, of outtakes and single images.  This selection, the largest portion of the book, covering 28 pages.  It shows various aspects of Nikki's life.  There are many beautiful images here.  The final project is four photographs of Nikki on a beach, and each of these is lovely.  All the photos in the book are rather unusual, are obviously artistic rather than just snapshots, and have been produced with great skill and care. 

The text is interesting too, although it is completely overshadowed by the images.  It does explain some of what is depicted, and gives a more general discussion of the experience of people with disabilities and their families.  It is written in clear language but it is also scholarly with footnotes.  They discuss the interaction with doctors and the medical approach to disability, the emotional issues related to having a disabled child, and the more general issue of how society treats the disabled.  The ideas here will be familiar to people who have done work in disability studies, but they do say something about the unique South African experience too. 

Angela Buckland's work here deserves a wide audience; it is easily as interesting as much of the photography being promoted by major private art galleries.  Zip Zip My Brain Harts is an unusual and provocative book on disability, filled with images that will appeal to many.

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© 2008 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.