New Website and Exhibition Showcases Project to Develop New Images of Women with Disabilities and Physical Differences


Trent Women’s Studies Professor Dr. Carla Rice Leads Envisioning New Meanings of Difference and Disability Project

Friday, March 26, 2010, Peterborough

A groundbreaking arts-based project led by Dr. Carla Rice, an associate professor in the Women’s Studies Department at Trent University, to help women with disabilities and physical differences transform their public image, is celebrating its most recent success – the launch of a new multimedia exhibition and website.

The Envisioning New Meanings of Difference and Disability project, started in 2007, is sponsored by the YWCA Peterborough, YWCA Sudbury, Trent University, Women’s College Research Institute, and Springtide Resources. The website showcases the work and digital stories produced by the women with disabilities involved in the project.

“Women with disabilities and differences have opportunities to confront and transform conventional views. Through their photography and digital films they challenge people to stop making “less than” or “better than” judgments regarding physical appearance and ability,” said Professor Dr. Rice. “Through the Envisioning New Meanings multimedia exhibition and website, our project has put forward alternative, empowering ways of seeing disability and difference and has engaged people in exploring their own responses to diverse bodies, appearances, and experiences.”

In speaking about the multimedia exhibition that has traveled to the Art Gallery of Peterborough, Sudbury Theatre Centre, Hart House at the University of Toronto, University of Toronto Medical School, Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, Norfolk Arts Centre in Simcoe Ontario, and Ben Navaee Gallery in Toronto, Prof. Rice said, “This is part of an emerging, international wave of arts-based interventions seeking to create social change.”

Envisioning New Meanings Project

The goal of the New Meanings of Difference and Disability project is to address issues of social exclusion through creating affirming imagery intended to improve women’s lives. Through arts interventions initiated by women themselves, such as photography, digital storytelling, and ethnodrama, the project seeks to engage health and social service providers, the media, and the broader public in re-visioning meanings of difference interwoven across cultural images and interactions.

“Understanding people’s fear and fascination with difference teaches us something about ourselves—namely, why difference unsettles and disturbs us. Women’s narratives are important because they reveal the pathways through which marginalization of differences occurs in families, health systems, schools, and culture,” said Prof. Rice. “By making and sharing their art, participants use the power of image to communicate their knowledge of living with a disability or difference—the pains and pleasures, successes and struggles. Ultimately, they show the myriad ways we all share the experience of what it is to be human.”

Future Directions

Since starting the project, Prof. Rice has also initiated the Mobilizing New Meanings Research Collaborative to examine the efficacy of the arts in transforming medical and clinical concepts of difference that adversely affect the health of women with anomalous bodies. The collaboration is comprised of researchers from Trent as well as Laurentian University, University of Toronto, and York University, in addition to the YWCA of Peterborough, the YWCA of Sudbury, Women’s College Hospital, and other community-based groups.

In addition to her role at Trent, Prof. Rice is a world-renowned consultant on women's body image issues. She has over 20 years experience as a clinician, project director, researcher, and media consultant on body image and eating problems. In 1993 she founded the Body Image Project at Women's College Hospital, creating a unique therapeutic approach for women with eating disorders and body image concerns. She is also the former project director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre and national organizer of Eating Disorder Awareness Week.


For more information, please contact:
Dr. Carla Rice, Associate Professor, Women's Studies Department, Trent University, (416) 654-1272 (home office) or (705) 748-1011 ext. 7088