[FOUNTAIN]The Venus with no arms

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[FOUNTAIN]The Venus with no arms

In the late 1950s, some babies were born with short limbs. Their mothers had taken Thalidomide - a sleeping aid synthesized in West Germany in 1957 - during pregnancy and gave birth to children with phocomelia, a congenital disorder that results in hands and feet being shaped like flippers. Forty percent of the babies born with phocomelia died within a year. Until the drug was banned in 1962, over 10,000 babies in 46 nations had been born with defects.
An Austrian doctor was unhappy to hear that the children were being compared to seals and gave the condition a new name: He called the babies born with short limbs “Angel Babies” for the angels in sacred paintings that are often depicted with shorter arms and legs. In “My Life in My Hands,” Alison Lapper wrote, “And so there I was. Alison Lapper ― aged one week. I had no arms. My leg had no knees, just the thighbone ending at my feet. They were not quite right, either. My condition was phocomelia... I was considered ‘severely disabled.’ I really hate the term.”
At age 19, Ms. Lapper started painting in order to escape the category of “severely disabled.” At 22, she got married, but because of her husband’s violence and interest in government subsidies for her, the marriage ended in a divorce. However, painting would not solve all her problems.
One day, an instructor told her, “I think you paint all these pictures of beautiful people because you don’t want to deal with how you look ― who you really are.” It was a shock. So she buried herself in books, turning pages with her nose and mouth. Her eyes fell on a picture of the Venus de Milo. In the visage of that ancient Greek statue of a woman with no arms, Ms. Lapper found herself. Her purpose in life became clear. She thought that no one would want to put new arms to Venus de Milo, for it was considered perfect as it is. Yet disability was thought to be ugly and faulty. “I wanted people to experience the idea that disability could be beautiful.” She became a photographer. Her subject was her body; in “Angel,” she was photographed with wings on her back to become an “Angel Baby.” She wanted to prove that a disabled person can be beautiful. The sculptor Marc Quinn joined her in her quest. Mr. Quinn made a sculpture, titled “Alison Lapper Pregnant,” and in 2005, it was reproduced as a 3.55-meter-tall (over 11-foot) statue in London’s Trafalgar Square. The statue of Alison Lapper become a symbol of motherhood, disability and desperate beauty.
Ms. Lapper is visiting Korea. She is accompanied by her son Parys, who is her fully formed true angel.


by Yi Jung-jae

The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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