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by Judith Harding

MCA staff member Judith Harding visualizes the feeling of existing at the margins Photo: Dakota Lecos

Judith Harding, an MCA employee and member of the MCA’s Accessibility Task Force, shares her experience of the museum as a place of refuge.

A margin is a border. Its adjectival form, marginal, often means less than or insufficient. Marginalized is a common term referring to specific groups of people who have been pushed aside, sequestered to the margins of society.

Marginalia are notes one makes in the margins of a page: doodles and scribbles, footnotes one may choose to ignore. Atypically, as in the instance of this blog post, marginalia is a report from the fringes of the fringe, where people like me who live with mental illness and other invisible disabilities reside.


Nearly every time I encounter the photo documentation of Maria Gaspar's site-specific performance _Disappearance Suit (Marin Headlands, CA)_ (2017), which appears in the MCA's exhibit _a body measured against the earth, I fall into the shadowy dent at the bottom of the frame. There, a clump of dried grass or a small, abandoned hay bale simultaneously hides and reveals a human form. I experience pangs of envy for that human form's capacity to so effectively integrate with its surroundings—the seduction of belonging, the intense longing to belong which has eluded me for decades of intermittent PTSD.

Then I realize: it’s the shadow, the darkness of the human form itself that provides the sole evidence of its existence; and I’m struck, if not utterly punched in the gut to suddenly comprehend that this is how one becomes invisible, how one comes to be perceived as other and less than. Integration seems an illusion; I will never belong, or be seen inside the frame. Dammit.


Haven is a place of safety. Safety not to avoid risk, but instead to nurture and strengthen identity so one can take risks freely, fearlessly deepening one's authenticity by exploring and expanding alternative ideas, voices, choices, and experiences. As an MCA employee living with mental illness, this museum has been a safe place for me, particularly when I experienced a fairly crippling psychotic break. I feel as safe here as I feel inside my home, because I can trust I will not be stigmatized at the MCA.

Likewise, some of the artworks and programs presented by the MCA in all media, like Gaspar’s work, reflect my experience as someone thriving in the margins. As meaningful as that is, I still assert that the social frame of exclusion should be fully erased, and that inclusion for people with all disabilities needs to be truly achieved by the MCA.