How exclusive is disability history? How inclusive it may be?

By: Sebastian Barsch

Last week, to the occasion of the annual carnival festivities, the people of Cologne firmly took control over public space. As a result the Cologne city-scape became packed with colourful costumes, dancing people and a lot of laughter. In between all those manifestations of carnival one occasionally could encounter a man or woman dressed up like a person with disabilities.

Costume of Frida Kahlo in Cologne Carnival
Costume of Frida Kahlo in Cologne Carnival
One of those persons was my colleague Mona Massumi. She masqueraded herself as the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo suffered lifelong health problems and has often been a subject of disability theory.1 Mona decided upon this costume because for her Frida Kahlo symbolizes a “strong woman in history: despite her difficult personal circumstances (sufferings caused by her disability, infidelity of her husband and the lack of recognition as an artist) she didn't lose her passion and courage.” As Mona is quite into diversity studies, she is well acquainted with the discussions about the Mexican artist. Still, my guess is that theory was not the main reason why she chose this costume. Instead, I think her example shows that disability may have recently acquired a certain appeal, as it has become visible as opposed to hidden or simply forgotten.


The Dr. Guislain Museum: Ten Inscriptions

By Arnout De Cleene

The Dr. Guislain Museum is located in the city of Ghent (Belgium). The museum can be found in the well-preserved buildings of Belgium’s first psychiatric asylum. At first sight one would consider this an ideal situation as the museum specializes in the history of psychiatry.


The Dr. Guislain Museum opened its doors in 1986. In those days visitors needed to go to the attic in one of the old buildings of the Hospice pour hommes aliénés. The Hospice was a specialized psychiatric institution founded in 1857. The institute was commonly named Hospice Guislain after its founder, Belgium’s first psychiatrist Joseph Guislain (1797-1860). Today, the Dr. Guislain Museum encompasses a permanent exhibition on the history of psychiatry, a broad collection of outsider art and temporary exhibitions on subjects related to the history of psychiatry (such as melancholia, trauma, shame, etc.). The museum tries to be a place where scientific research and expertise (on psychiatry, mental illness, madness, etc.) can be translated into (mostly visual) presentations that aim to reach a large and diverse public.
One of the intriguing and problematic aspects the museum continuously is confronted with is the following: the building used in order to present the exhibitions seems to interfere with what is being shown and how it is interpreted.