Zola Award Honorable Mention: Sculpting Body Ideals: Alison Lapper Pregnant and the Public Display of Disability

Ann Millett


British artist Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant (2005) is a monumental marble statue in London's Trafalgar Square that displays a nude, full body portrait of British resident and artist, Alison Lapper. The work features Lapper, who was born without arms and with shortened legs, in all her glory — unclothed and seven months pregnant. The work has been highly criticized for capitalizing on the shock value of disability, as well as lauded for its progressive social values. Alison Lapper Pregnant and the controversy surrounding it showcase disability issues at the forefront of current debates in contemporary art. The work and Quinn's many previous marble sculptures of amputee models, in the series The Complete Marbles (2002), adopt the highly idealizing traditions and conventions of Neoclassicism, the art form characteristically employed for public statues, which idealize political figures and the often patriarchal and nationalistic social values such statues personify. In Quinn's piece and in Lapper's own self-portraits, Lapper's body on display makes a bold statement about representations of disability in the public realm. In this paper, I argue how Alison Lapper Pregnant disrupts artistic and social ideals for bodies, therefore becoming an anti-monument, and it simultaneously continues in traditions that purport public heroes. The work embodies the stereotypes of disability as heroic, tragic, and freakish and functions to make such stereotypes visible, part of public discourse, and open for debate. I underscore how artistic and historical contexts are crucial to interpreting the representation of the disabled body in art and public life. Lapper's own voice is a key component to these discussions of disability and artistic versus social representations, as are her self-portrait sculptures, photographs, and collages. By comparing Quinn's statue to Lapper's artwork, I illustrate the informative and beneficial results of viewing the work of non-disabled and disabled artists in dialogues.


Art; representation of disability; visual culture; body; Neoclassicism; British history

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v28i3.122

Copyright (c) 2008 Ann Millett

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