This article explores how visual images of dependency and care reflect and reinforce perceptions of people who are ill, disabled, or otherwise dependent, those who sustain them, and the meaning of the work they do. Scenes of care are a valuable index for understanding cultural assumptions about who is deserving of care, how and where care should be given, and who is obligated to serve as a giver of care. It positions these images in the context of the emphasis, within the disability rights movement, on independence. I argue that the insistence on independence entails a form of what Lauren Berlant calls "cruel optimism"—desire for the very things that undermine happiness and well-being—because they rely on a willful disregard of the inevitable interdependency that is a fact of all human existence, as well as the particular forms of dependency that pertain to many disabled bodies. The end of the article considers works of visual art that challenge dominant modes for representing how care is given and received. If the invisibility of caregiving is one aspect of our willful forgetting that all bodies are dependent, I'll argue that visual images of care are an essential resource for recognizing and reimagining its status in our society. One desired outcome of such reconsideration would be to complicate the meaning of autonomy—as it relates to choosing disability—as well as how the work of caregiving is acknowledged and valued.


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pp. 301-321
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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