Les Gueules cassées: disfigurement and its legacies

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Call for papers : Les Gueules cassées: disfigurement and its legacies

University of Exeter, 12th-14th March 2015

The experience of the gueules cassées has given rise to a unique cultural history, and one which is now being rewritten in the centenary years of the First World War. This conference, arising from the INTERREG IV-funded project 1914FACES2014, led by the Institut Faire Faces and the University of Exeter, assesses the legacy of the gueules cassées.

The First World War saw facial injury on an unprecedented scale: new types of weaponry meant that facial injury became more common and greater numbers of wounded survived. As a result, WWI and its immediate aftermath saw unprecedented innovations in the surgical field, with surgeons such as Hippolyte Morestin and Harold Gillies pioneering techniques which would transform facial reconstructive surgery. Just as artistic practice fed into surgical practice (in the work of sculptors as mask-makers or epithesists), so the radically new forms of surgery developed at this time altered the context in which artists represented the face. At the same time, understandings and representations of the face have radically changed since the First World War, from segregation of facially injured veterans following the First World War to recognition of facial difference as a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act. This conference will explore the disputed histories of the gueules cassées in the British and French contexts alongside a broad-based consideration of the face and facial difference. It will coincide with a major exhibition entitled Faces of Conflict: the Impact of the First World War on Art and Reconstructive Surgery at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter.

We are delighted to announce the following keynote speakers: Prof Bernard Devauchelle (Institut Faire Faces), Dr Suzannah Biernoff (Birkbeck, University of London) and James Partridge (Changing Faces). Prof Bernard Devauchelle is Professor of Maxillofacial Surgery and Stomatology, University of Amiens, France, and the president of the Institut Faire Faces. Prof Devauchelle carried out the first partial face transplant in 2005. His many publications include La Fabrique du visage : de la physiognomonie antique à la première greffe (with François Delaporte, 2010). Dr Suzannah Biernoff is Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Visual Culture, Birbeck, University of London. Her research has spanned medieval and modern periods: her publications include Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages (2002), and she currently works on war and visual culture in early twentieth-century Britain. Her book Portraits of Violence: War and the Aesthetics of Disfigurement is due out later this year. James Partridge is Founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, the leading UK charity supporting and representing people with disfigurements. James was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 2005 and was the winner of Britain’s most admired Charity Chief Executive for 2010 and the Beacon Prize for Leadership, also in 2010

Proposals for 20-minute papers and for panels are now invited. Papers may be given in English or French. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

The significance of les gueules cassées in the history of the First World War

The social history of facial injury

Disfigurement and social reintegration

Perceptions of facial difference

Charities and facial difference

Rethinking facial difference in the international context

Franco-British exchanges in the surgical field

Assessing the history of facial surgery

From facial reconstruction to the first face transplant

Literary representations of disfigurement

First World War literature and the face

Art, surgery and the face

Responses to disfigurement in the visual arts

The Slade school and the First World War

Theorising facial difference

Pedagogical contexts


Deadline for abstracts: 

Please send an abstract (300 words maximum) and a short biography (50 words maximum) to by 1st December 2014