deborah rockman

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The Danger of Being Born

I have always been interested in the origins of individual identity and it's relationship to broader cultural and social norms and anomalies. Far too many people in our world suffer, and this suffering often has its origins in trans-generational neglect or abuse. Our wounded and scarred children, often the product of damaged and wounded parents, become our damaged and wounded adults. The wounded self is passed from one generation to the next in a seemingly endless cycle of dysfunction and identity distortion. Our dysfunctional homes become our dysfunctional schools become our dysfunctional churches become our dysfunctional governments become our dysfunctional nations, and the cycle repeats itself.

Many of these drawings are based on an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. In this exhibit, lifeless embryos and fetuses at various stages of in utero development are displayed in glass containers filled with formaldehyde and other preservatives. They are anonymous in their presentation, skin bleached of color. They float in a darkened and recessed space behind thick glass smeared with the handprints of curious adults and children alike. They become the “other”, a spectacle of the living gazing at the dead.

The stunted physicality of the displayed bodies functions as a metaphor for a stunted psyche. Arrested and malformed physical development mimics an arrested and malformed internal self. In the tradition of turn-of-the-century postmortem studio photographs, these portraits reflect my desire to acknowledge and memorialize the suffering of those who are most powerless and vulnerable in our culture. Through the process of drawing, I enact what I perceive to be lacking in the lives of so many wounded children – a soft and delicate touch, prolonged patience in encouraging the face to reveal itself, and a gentle coaxing of form into being. It is a symbolic act of nurturing, breathing a kind of life and beauty into these blind and mute faces.