Rainclamation: Reclaiming Space and Challenging Stigma

Mary Porter – On February 9th, Erin Davenport ’18 and Sarah Gompper ’18 presented Rainclamation: A Disability Art Project in the Duke Dorm Lobby to over one hundred students, friends, and staff members. Supported by the Spike Grant of Davidson Arts and Creative Engagement, Erin and Sarah embarked on this project beginning in September. Since revealing their artwork, they have been invited to participate in Emory University’s Critical Junctures Conference—an intersectional forum for students, professors, artists, and activists to present their work and to advocate for social justice. I spoke with Erin regarding the meaning and inspiration for her and Sarah’s artwork. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of my interview with her:

MP: What was your motivation to start this project?

ED: Sarah and I were inspired to make disability related art because as a topic and an identity, it is under-served and under-covered on campus. We wanted to bring attention to disability-related issues. The project also has a personal connection and came out of a conversation that I had with Sarah several months ago. We were discussing freshman year and how, when we would enter Belk together—the dorm that we were living in—I would take the stairs if other people were around, despite my disability. It resulted in a lot of pain, however, I would make this choice in order to avoid the stigma of using the elevator. Sarah, in reflection of these moments, asked me if this was something we could change.

MP: What is Rainclamation and what does it stand for?

ED: The name is a combination of rain and reclamation, and reclamation is the overall theme of this project. In the project, there are three levels of reclamation happening. The first is where to put the art. We wanted to take fraught stigma filled space of the elevator and try to produce art that takes that space back in a powerful and artistic way. Elevators can typically be utilitarian in their utility. The second level is in the abstract wax painting, hence rainclamation. We were inspired by rain because it can make moving through the world more difficult. It coats floors and surfaces in a way that can be dangerous and threatening, especially if you have mobility issues and struggle to balance or walk. Again, we wanted to reclaim rain, and take something that causes pain into the inspiration for something beautiful. The third level involves the poetry we painted on the boards. The poetry is done in erasure style; meaning, we took existing documents and blacked out words, only choosing words that we wanted to form the poem with.

MP: What are these existing documents?

ED: We found through the college archives, physical education manuals from the 1950s that showcased concern and preoccupation of perfection of the body as a goal of Davidson at the time. The type of language found in these documents erases disabled people from the equation, so we erased words and reformed them to make poetry to be pained on our boards. By doing so, we are reclaiming the ugly history of disability at Davidson.

MP: How long did this project take to create?

ED: It has definitely been a lot of work, and because it must be done outside of class, it has been a challenge. We originally conceived the idea in September, and the painting began over fall break. We both stayed on campus to work on it.

MP: How did you collaborate with Sarah?

ED: Sarah was responsible for the execution of the artwork—she is a talented painter. I mostly work on organizing the documents, marketing the project, and planning the event. We worked together to black out the documents.

MP: When and where will the boards be showcased?

ED: Hopefully within the next few weeks the artwork will be installed in the Duke and Belk dorms. There will be a total of seven floors featuring these paintings.

MP: Why Duke and Belk dorms?

ED: Those dorms have the most number of disabled students living in them. And since our primary target is disabled students… Duke and Belk [made the most sense].

MP: How do you want this artwork to impact the Davidson community?

ED: I hope that for disabled students who moving through those dorms and waiting for the elevator that the artwork will bring them a sense of calm. I want them to be reminded that they are entering a space that is there to help them. Although people may be judging their use of the elevator based on misconceptions, in reality, their use of the elevator is valid and their experience is valid. …I hope it causes able bodied people to question their assumptions about the space and to engage more with the topic of disability.