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What is Deaf Art?

Eight Deaf artists gathered for a four-day workshop immediately before the Deaf Way arts festival at Gallaudet University in May, 1989.  At this workshop, led by Betty G. Miller and Paul Johnston, these artists produced the following manifesto, defining Deaf Culture Art, which they called De'VIA, short for Deaf View/Image Art

The De'VIA Manifesto
Deaf View/Image Art

De'VIA represents Deaf artists and perceptions based on their Deaf experiences.  It uses formal art elements with the intention of expressing innate cultural or physical Deaf experience.  These experiences may include Deaf metaphors, Deaf perspectives, and Deaf insight in relationship with the environment (both the natural world and Deaf cultural environment), spiritual and everyday life.
De'VIA can be identified by formal elements such as Deaf artists' possible tendency to use contrasting colors and values, intense colors, contrasting textures.  It may also most often include a centralized focus, with exaggeration or emphasis on facial features, especially eyes, mouths, ears, and hands.  Currently, Deaf artists tend to work in human scale with these exaggerations, and not exaggerate the space around these elements.
There is a difference between Deaf artists and De'VIA.  Deaf artists are those who use art in any form, media, or subject matter, and who are held to the same artistic standards as other artists.  De'VIA is created when the artist intends to express their Deaf experience through visual art.  De'VIA may also be created by deafened or hearing artists, if the intention is to create work that is born of their Deaf experience (a possible example would be a hearing child of Deaf parents).  It is clearly possible for Deaf artists not to work in the area of De'VIA.

While applied and decorative arts may also use the qualities of De'VIA (high contrast, centralized focus, exaggeration of specific features), this manifesto is specifically written to cover the traditional fields of visual fine arts (painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, printmaking) as well as alternative media when used as fine arts such as fiber arts, ceramics, neon, and collage.

Created in May, 1989, at The Deaf Way.

The signatories were:  Dr. Betty G. Miller, painter;  Dr. Paul Johnston, sculptor;  Dr. Deborah M. Sonnenstrahl, art historian;  Chuck Baird, painter;  Guy Wonder, sculptor;  Alex Wilhite, painter;  Sandi Inches Vasnick, fiber artist;  Nancy Creighton, fiber artist;  and Lai-Yok Ho, video artist.