Dimensions: 69.5cm (W) x 65cm (H)
Framed 76.6cm (W) x 73.5cm (H) x 4.3cm (D)
Medium: graphite on vintage cotton pillowcase
Photography: Peter Abrahams
This real-life woman (1912-1996) contracted polio when she was a six-months old baby; she underwent multiple operations on her lame leg and wore an awkward metal and leather leg brace all her life. Her mother died when she was still an infant while her father doted on her.
Despite this difficult legacy she led an independent life. She secretly had multiple lovers – an exceptional daring for a woman of her generation living in a tight provincial catholic environment (think George Eliot’s Middlemarch half a century earlier). She campaigned for and led a disability charity.
And yet her older siblings called her ‘impossible’, an offensive label airily perpetuated by their descendants. It is likely that her unwillingness to conform to requirements was the cause of their disapproval. An unmarried and disabled woman was not expected to be flamboyant, defy conventions and lead an insouciant free life.
One trait was her long curly hair, abundant and wild - from childhood to old age. This pillowcase with the initials SH was hers. The work is homage to a courageous and dignified woman who made it possible to be herself in spite of opposition.