Future Face Exhibition at the Science Museum, London
15th November 2004
There are many different faces on show, but there is one that stands out above all the others because it belongs to a man we all recognise - Michael Jackson. In the book that accompanies the exhibition, Sandra Kemp writes that Jackson's face is central to her project because it was "the first high profile face to portray a physical transition from African to Caucasian, changing colour and shape".
Looking at this image, it occurred to me that Michael Jackson is the world's most famous disfigured man. I call him 'disfigured' because his face, for whatever reason, has gone from being normal to abnormal, exposed to concealed, admired to distrusted. But looking at this image, I realised that the media have turned him into the disfigured villain whom it's OK to hate - I myself remember sneering with disgust at this photograph when it first appeared in the tabloids.
The worldwide release of this mugshot made us all complicit to a sensational freakshow. It feeds in to all the stereotypes of disfigurement being equal to badness and difference. For some people, this is probably there only image of disfigurement.
Further into the exhibition is a section called Limits of the face, which looks at the history and development of facial surgery - in particular, the techniques used on the damaged faces of soldiers from the First World War.
Another section of the exhibition concerns identity and how we interpret faces. Here, visitors can view four colour photographs of people with disfigurements taken for the charity Changing Faces. Where the image of Michael Jackson elicits a response of shock, and the images of the First World War veteran elicits a response of deep sympathy, these photographs show another side to disfigurement. One of them is of a young girl called Hannah. She was born with a birthmark and she is photographed being cuddled by her mother. It is an image of a happy, normal, beautiful little girl whose birthmark has not stopped her from being a loving and loved child. If only people saw more images like this one.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the exhibition was an interactive Face Morph (the Interactive Face Transformer by Dave Perrett, 2004). It takes an image of your face and you then select different face morph options, such as 'chimp', 'older', 'baby' and 'African'. So, for example, by selecting 'older', your face morphs into what you would look like as a pensioner, complete with wrinkles and liver spots. I was too much of a chicken to go on the machine myself, but my boyfriend very bravely had a go. The sight of my bearded beloved's face morphed into that of a baby's - complete with beard - was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
What does this have to do with facial disfigurement? Well, nothing actually, except that it was a bloody good laugh. However, it did occur to me that my impairment, Cherubism, might ultimately be just another option on God's face morph machine.
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