Now’s The Time
Art Year Zero

10–19 June 2022
Exeter UK

The Art of Signing Hands: A Bilingual Exhibition

Curator Emma Fearon’s exhibition brings together the work of Nancy Rourke, Louise Stern and Chella Man, with participation from the students at The Deaf Academy in Exmouth, to offer a diverse experience of Sign language in varying contexts: poetic, historical, artistic, and natural.


My curatorial passion for this project comes from being a Child of Deaf Adults. My parents grew up under Oralism, affecting them differently. I saw Deafhood fostered in my mum later in her life, resulting in a shift in her identity and pride which led me to focus my undergraduate dissertation on Deaf Visualisation Image Art. In that dissertation, I wrote about the three present artists. Exploring the artists’ work, created a new connection for me with my parents, confirming the beauty of the language we share and offering the visual experience of D/deaf struggles. After the dissertation, a need to curate a show that employs BSL equally alongside English in a D/deaf-friendly space became apparent. The exhibition aims to clearly express the nuances of D/deaf culture in an authentic and accessible manner.


The internationally renowned artist, Nancy Rourke grew up in San Diego. Rourke is both Native American from Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians in the Kumeyaay Nation and American. Born D/deaf, but unknowingly until six, Rourke gravitated toward drawing and painting from a young age as a mode of communication. In 2010, Rourke’s work shifted to the visualisation of Deaf culture, history, and the Deaf experience. Rourke’s art can be categorised as resistance, affirmation, and liberation art, made apparent by a system of motifs and colour coding. She creates works that serve social justice, artivism, human rights, and solidarity. Rourke’s revisiting of hidden Deaf histories allows for public recognition of oralist oppression (denying of Sign language) that still defines many individuals’ D/deaf experiences today.

Louise Stern is internationally known for her directing and writing as well as her artwork. The London-based artist was originally from California, growing up in an exclusively Deaf community. Stern found literature and visual language as a way to investigate and liberate, leading to her use of a spectrum of language to explore the depth of what communication and isolation really mean. Stern’s work demonstrates signed languages’ unique ability to convey the nuances and reverberation of the in-between moments as well as actions or occurrences. The distinctive visuality of sign remains a central aspect of her work as she explores and documents its wealth of textures and emotiveness that is unparalleled in its exceptionality.

Chella Man is an internationally acclaimed artist who identifies as Deaf, trans-masculine, Jewish, and Chinese. As a multi-hyphenate, his work is not limited to one medium. Expanding into painting, film, sculpture and performance art, Man explores the continuum of identity and deconstructs binaries surrounding disability, gender, race, and morality. He is a curator and artist of Pure Joy: showing at 1969 Gallery (2022), author of Continuum (2021), the director, producer, and editor of the award winning film The Beauty of Being Deaf (2021), executive producer of Trans in Trumpland (2021), designer of Opening Ceremony (2019), casted as Jericho in DC Universe’s Titans  (2019), and former columnist for Them of Conde Naste (2018).

Sign (BSL & ASL) has a visually poetic nature that is unlike any spoken language in its structure and comprehension. However, it is most importantly emblematic of the freedom to express and be understood, on distinctly Deaf terms.

The exhibition programme, kindly sponsored by Miranda Beatty, includes two community-based events. The first is a participatory workshop with the students from the Deaf Academy entailing a private viewing of the gallery followed by a creative art-making section. This workshop invites students to create the window display in the gallery, with features of De’VIA (Deaf Visualisation Image Art) from their own perspectives. The second event is a ‘Deaf Pub Night’, held in the gallery. A staple of the Deaf social calendar, appropriated into the gallery setting. Invitations are extended to local Deaf social clubs and those who have participated.

Louise Stern

Louise Stern, Laura, God, 2020. Courtesy the artist and s[edition] (Photo credit: Steven Fisher)

Chella Man

Chella Man, The Beauty of Being Deaf, 2021, video still. Courtesy the artist

The Art of Signing Hands

Nancy Rourke, Freedom of Communication, 2014

100dpi Nows The Time 142 Edit

The Art of Signing Hands, curated by Emma Fearon, courtesy MA Curation, University of Exeter. Photo: Simon Tutty

100dpi NTT maketank

The Art of Signing Hands, curated by Emma Fearon, courtesy MA Curation, University of Exeter. Photo: Josie Cockram

100dpi Nows The Time 166

The Art of Signing Hands, curated by Emma Fearon, courtesy MA Curation, University of Exeter. Photo: Simon Tutty

100dpi Nows The Time 175 Edit

The Art of Signing Hands, curated by Emma Fearon, courtesy MA Curation, University of Exeter. Photo: Simon Tutty


3-5 Paris Street,
Exeter EX4 4NW

10–19 June 2022

Opening daily: 12–5pm

The Art of Signing Hands