The Curation of To Be(Hold) in Revere: An Exhibition of Historical Photographs of People with Intellectual Disability

Art, access and agency - art sites of enabling

Keywords: Sites of Conscience, Institute for Imbecile Children, Grahamstown Lunatic Asylum, Thomas Duncan Greenlees, intellectual disability, photography


In this article, I discuss my curation of a photographic exhibition of people with intellectual disability (PWID) who were institutionalised at the Grahamstown Lunatic Asylum, from 1890 to 1920. The exhibition titled, To Be(Hold) in Revere, aimed to display affirmative photographs and humanising stories of PWID obtained from the Asylum’s casebooks. The Sites of Conscience movement influenced the exhibition’s aim. The movement seeks to recover the agency and personhood of those who lived at a site of human suffering in order to establish a collective memory of their voices and experiences. This article details my curatorial approach; it provides a telling of the life stories of seven patients and outlines how I adopted the principles of the Sites of Conscience movement in facilitating exhibition walkabouts with the public. A key facet of the walkabouts was encouraging the public to witness the personhood of the Asylum’s PWID, as well as to explore the current issues faced by today’s PWID and advocate for their human rights.