The De’VIA and Experiences of Their Eyes

Art involving Deaf Visual and Image Art is known as De’VIA. De’VIA was an art movement inspired by deaf artists to “come out of the closet” during the early 1980s and late 1990s (Miller 303). To come out of the closet is to show pride in being deaf, instead of hiding their deafness or trying to imitate the hearing. Deaf people have a history comprise of discrimination, being ignored and oppressed by the hearing world. Thus, through their art they are able to represent their experience, culture and struggles; all of which offers a glimpse into their respective worlds and to open up our understanding of their life. Betty G. Miller and Chuck Baird are two deaf artists well known during the De’VIA movement. Their artworks conveyed how the world is seen through the deaf perception.

Patricia Durr, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural and Creative Studies at the National Technical Institute of Technology for the Deaf (NITD), states in her article, De’VIA: Investigating Deaf Visual Image Art, from the 2006 Deaf Studies Today volume 2 magazine: “Affirmation recognition of the value and naturalness of ASL, recording the acculturation process, celebrating a sense of affiliation and acceptance, and giving visual form to Deafhood are all part of affirmation art providing an holistic gaze of Deaf people” (Durr, 2006:174-75).

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What is De’VIA, you may ask, hat is it behind the meaning of it and who created this? There were about nine great professional artists who tried to come up with a meaning for ‘deaf art’ and define it’s characteristics of deaf foundation in art. At The result, the name De’VIA was announced and presented at The Deaf Way Festival at Gallaudet University according to Sonnenstrahl’s 2002 book Deaf Artists In America. De’VIA allowed the deaf artists to express and to show their childhood experiences, telling the whole world about their deafness.

Betty G. Miller, who led De’VIA in the movement, explains De’VIA according to her article, The Manifest’s Introduction, “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,” (Miller 305).

This is how the deaf community expresses themselves to the hearing world, wanting them to see their life through their eyes. These pictures are filled with hidden meanings and concepts in hopes that the hearing world will be intrigued and learn something of the deaf way. For example, Betty Miller began to express her deaf experience 18 years before the De’VIA art movement came along and her expressions was were straightforward. The artworks, that Miller created were filled with powerful patriotic movements. Miller used her artworks to poured out her anger and frustrations about being oppressed by hearing people. This artwork was critical in the roll of both Deaf and hearing to come together and express their feelings.

According to Deborah Sonnenstrahl’s 2002 book, Deaf Artists in America: Colonial to Contemporary, Betty G. Miller was born with some hearing loss in Chicago, Illinois on July 27, 1934. She was the first person — known as the “Mother of De’VIA”, a name which was given to her by Chuck Baird, a fellow De’VIA artist. Her parents were both deaf and her father was a commercial artist, which fascinated Miller while she grew up. While growing up, her parents thought it be best if she was in oral school with her two hearing brothers. The discussion of her going to a deaf school was never made because she was only partly deaf and could still hear a little.

That was the most difficult time of Betty’s life because she did not have enough hearing to blend in with her peers. Miller had stated, “How I succeeded, don’t ask me. I managed somehow,” which stated in the Deaf Artists in America, (Miller 305). It showed her perseverance and ability to manage the daily struggle the modern day technology such as interpreters to be her ears Betty Miller had been exposed to her father’s commercial art, it pursue her to study commercial art at Gallaudet University which was a cultural shock because she has always saw herself as a hearing person, rather than a deaf person. Everyone at Gallaudet were deaf and that is where she was able to relate herself to the people there where she doesn’t feel any different and not having to worry about blending in with her peers.

One Millers best known artwork is called Ameslan Prohibited, which was painted in the Gannon’s Deaf Heritage (Sonnenstrahl, 2002), but it was originally inked on paper in 1972 by Sandi Inches Vasnick. It is a piece of artwork where two hands are shown in chains which approaches the issue of deaf not allowed to use sign language in schools. The chained hands are disorientated because the no signing method disoriented the deaf children’s education. The fingers seems to have lack of energy and strength to accomplish their goal.

In another great piece of artwork that Miller created known as Deaf Dancers, it shows how deaf dancers “hear” the music. The deaf dancers can listen to music through their eyes instead of listening to the musical sounds and lyrics. This is shown in the artwork by colorful square beads floating in front of the dancer’s eyes.

RA well-known De’VIA resistance artwork is called, “ASL Growth”. This piece shows the sign GROW with the bold ASL letters indicating that American Sign Language is always growing. The fingers of the first hand are closed and the viewer’s eyes move upward and it slowly change to a wide space as they are reaching out embracing all opportunities, which is illustrated in the article De’VIA: Investigating Deaf Visual Art by Patti Durr.

Charles Crawford Baird, also known as Chuck Baird, was involved with the De’VIA movement along with Betty Miller. His artwork is mostly known for the use of signs with images but he also has powerful resistance artworks that he uses to express his deaf experances. Baird was born in Kansas, Missouri on February 22, 1947, the youngest in the family with 4 other siblings and hearing parents. His artistic talent has developed when he went to Kansas School for the Deaf. He met Grace Bilger, who was a well-known watercolorist, a teacher and eventually became a mentor for Chuck.

One of Chuck’s amazing art was “Mechanical Ear” painted in 1973. According to Chuck Baird: 35 Plates which has “has a bit of prophetic feel to it in light of the fact that it pre-dates of the cochlear implant device.” (Durr, 2006:171). It is a giant ear that has wires, meters and gadgets, all the instruments running around that every deaf child learns to deal with and then later on when they become adults, they rejected it. It also represents cochlear implant device. In ASL, the signer usually sign a box around the ear and mouth. This shows how the people view them in generally. This is also shows hearingization of Deaf people by the people who believes in hearing’s superiority. (Purr, 2006:185)

As you can see, there are wonderful artists and the favorite artist was Chuck Baird. His artwork showed amazing work. His pieces show how deaf people are feeling especially when he made a picture with the giant ear that has wires in it. That was who we were before accepting as a whole person.

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The De’VIA and Experiences of Their Eyes. (2016, Jun 07). Retrieved from