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Mother and Child

Artist Feature of Gao Rongguo

In 2011, while working on my series about twins, I discovered that children from two different families had strikingly similar faces. I was surprised because these families lived several dozen miles apart. After inquiring, I learned that both sets of children had Down syndrome. Due to their distinctive facial features, they are known in some areas as "international faces" or "internationals."

Out of curiosity, I looked up a great deal of information. What caught my attention was that the Italian painter Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506) depicted the infant Jesus in his painting "Madonna and Child" with characteristics of Down syndrome, while Martin Luther (1483-1546) publicly called for the killing of mentally handicapped people.

Having two vastly different attitudes within the same religion is thought-provoking. Some speculate that this might be because, at that time, Down syndrome was not considered a disease. After all, it was not until 1866 that John Langton Down first published the existence of this condition of congenital mental retardation. This highlights the variability in the classification criteria and categories of disabilities and underscores that the division between "normal" and "disabled" is, in fact, a conscious social construct.

Everyone has a different body, and it is because of this difference that we are able to exist as unique beings. Yet, the distinct appearance of disabled individuals often becomes a public focal point, leading to being belittled, ridiculed, and even seen as evil. When people are used to looking at the disabled community differently, raising a child with a disability can be extremely stressful. So I decided to respond to Andrea Mantegna's Madonna and Child portraits by photographing some mothers and children recognized as being born with disabilities.

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