Close encounters offer insight

Detail from Embracing Life, featuring Lismores Kath Duncan. It is one of the photographs in Intimate Encounters, which opens at the Lismore Regional Gallery this Friday.

Lismore woman Kath Duncan is a documentary-maker, writer, radio announcer, and self-confessed media junkie. She is also a congenital amputee, a disability rights activist, and one of the subjects of a new photographic exhibition which opens at the Lismore Regional Gallery this Friday, January 19.

The exhibition, by Victorian photographer Belinda Mason-Lovering, is called Intimate Encounters, and looks frankly at the many misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding disability, sexuality, and body image.

Kath said her involvement with the project came about after Belinda tracked her down through some contacts in the disability movement and asked her to model.

I liked her approach to photography, and she basically used her charm to convince me to get involved, Kath said. I was satisfied with her knowledge of disability culture, and thought she could create something very special. Plus, Ill take any chance I can get to have my photo taken!

The exhibition uses colourful photography to celebrate disabled people and their sexual identity.

Kath, who made a documentary called My One Leg Dream Lover about people with amputee fetishes, says she often forgets that for many people sex and disability is a confronting issue.

For thousands of years we have basically been regarded as a-sexual by mainstream culture, so in 2007 its not surprising that the idea still shocks people, she said. We all resist this stereotype in our own ways we go out and find lovers and have relationships anyway. The ignorant value this stereotype, but the rest of us recognise it for the crap that it is.

Kath says while the lack of representation of people with disabilities in government and business is a big concern, she believes in a social and cultural context, its an exciting time.

She says in the last few decades people with disabilities have done amazing things artistically, producing culturally and politically evocative work.

We are taking off making art, dance, film festivals and we are doing very well, she said.

A non-disabled artist, Belinda Mason-Lovering says she wanted to try to connect audiences with the subjects self-perception, rather than what society has conditioned them to see.

The lowest emotion anyone can feel is pity, the highest is empathy, said Belinda. Ignorance is really the biggest disability.

Describing the exhibition as beautiful, Kath believes its an important step in challenging peoples prejudices about whats attractive and sexy.

Its had brickbats and bouquets wherever its been shown. It makes people think, Kath said. Many non-disabled people have come up to me and said that it has made them think about how they view themselves, and how they have been fed the wrong information through the media about the perfect body, which is unrealistic and unattainable for anyone, disabled or not.

Intimate Encounters opens this Friday, January 19, at 5.30pm and Kath will also present a floor talk this Saturday, January 20, at 11am.

The exhibition will remain on show until February 13.

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