Disfigurement and the Death of the Portrait
Art Historian Suzannah Biernoff explores the artistic and medical responses to facial injury in WWI and more recent uses of portraiture to convey the human cost of violent conflict. Facial mutilation is regarded by many as the most dehumanising of injuries. One of the innovative outcomes of First World War injury was the production of portrait masks, used by severely disfigured servicemen: the surgical ‘failures’. Images of disfigurement from recent conflicts continue to disturb the equation between identity and appearance.
Suzannah Biernoff is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London. Her recent writing, supported by a Wellcome Research Award, pursues the themes of corporeal history and visual anxiety in the context of First World War Britain. Portraits of Violence: War and the Aesthetics of Disfigurement was published in 2017 by The University of Michigan Press in their series Corporealities: Discourses of Disability.