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Voices: Deaf Culture, Identity, Language, and Arts|
In the early 1990s, Gallaudet University and the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., planned a joint production, a permanent exhibition called “DEAF: A Community of Signers.” However, as a result of a series of conflicts over the original conception, the focus changed, and the exhibition became a traveling installation called “History through Deaf Eyes.” A committee based at Gallaudet University handled the design and fundraising, and the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building eventually became the host site for one of the exhibition’s early postings. In moving from “DEAF” to “Deaf Eyes,” this particular exhibition sheds light on American d/Deaf identities and the conflicted nature of representation. It also shows how hearing, deaf, and culturally Deaf people define and describe themselves and others in relation to the concept of a subjectivity that sees through “Deaf eyes.”I do not care what the “deaf culture” do with their lives. If they want to go off into a ghetto, that’s fine with me. Just don’t try to drag me, and others like me, along with you.
In its original conception as “DEAF: A Community of Signers,” the exhibition set out to provide a series of short narratives that would inform and educate a hearing audience. As such, it was intended to focus upon signing Deaf people as members of a unique sociolinguistic community. In the early stages, the planning committee deliberated on what one idea, one concept, they wanted visitors to understand. That one idea was to show the audience an alternative narrative concerning Deaf people, a group that many hearing visitors would know simply as a subsection of the disabled population. Hearing people with no knowledge of the Deaf community or of Deaf history were the intended audience of the original exhibition According to exhibition director Jean L. Bergey, viewers would feel as though they had “met” a Deaf person.
4. Wells 1994.