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Posture Portraits

This project examines the marginalization of gendered and racialized bodies through policy-driven medicalization and the idea of “fitness,” and how to counter institutionalized embodiment of unequal status through a novel technique utilizing computer science, social sciences, and the arts. Our exploration stems from case studies from colleges that engaged in posture photography and the analysis of archival and interview data from women who experienced mandatory college “posture portraits” taken in the 1950s and 60s. We combine computer technology and the arts to scaffold a sociological critique of harmful medicalized assessment practices, with the goal of mining linkages for current resonances, and working toward a more just society in the college setting and beyond. This interdisciplinary, cross-institutional project uses innovative digital technologies to generate and analyze data gathered from immersive and experiential performance to invoke in our audience/research participants and student performers a sense of bodily empathy, self-contextualization and reflexivity. We explore the following questions: How can we use the arts and technology to help recover, retell and amplify the histories of people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ people, and people with disabilities? How does this retelling help institutions and individuals repair the mistakes of the past by de-objectifying the experiences of the oppressed? How can we make connections to present routines of embodied marginalization; and thus create a practice which invokes in individuals and communities a sense of  empathy and compassion, whereby individuals and institutions may draw guidance in their work toward education, justice and equal potential for all? By creating a space where the audience becomes participants, we work to disrupt the objectification of the scientific gaze to start and sustain a conversation that will make the case for long-term societal and policy impacts, particularly around body shaming and belonging.