Graphic Novel Review | Hidden by Mirranda Burton

hidden-by-mirranda-burton-book-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: Hidden
: Mirranda Burton
: Black Pepper Publishing
: 2011
: Adult Graphic Novel, Short Memoir
: 96

Hidden is a powerful introduction to disability narratives.  As the first book I’ve read representing adult intellectual disability, it lays the foundation for me to engage with the topic with better understanding and compassion.  Importantly, it opened my eyes to the key issues surrounding adult intellectual disability.

When I took on a part time job as an art instructor to adults with ‘intellectual disabilities’ ranging from down syndrome to autism, I was rescued from learned ideas of human progress.  I stepped into a reality outside of the box and hit the ‘reset’ button.  It was like opening a new tin of ink and rolling out a colour I had never seen before – Hidden

Our first person narrator, Mirranda Burton, tells true stories from her time teaching art to adults with intellectual disabilities.  Despite her often chaotic environment, Mirranda is calm and always self-aware.  With an attitude of non-judgment, she fosters a respectful, patient, and caring art space.  As a result, her students have a safe environment to learn, share, and create.  Hidden is divided into short stories, each exploring a different student’s relationship with their art and their community.

Although Mirranda maintains a peaceful exterior, she expresses the duality of her external/internal self through the visual metaphor of drowning in a teacup.  Although I have no experience working with disability like Mirranda, this description of self-criticism and feeling out of her depth resonates with me.  I love how the graphic novel form allows her to communicate this in such an emotive way.

It’s all one really needs to know in life… …just keep a sharp focus on what’s important and keep going… and going… – Hidden

As the title suggests, the overarching theme is how the world of disability is hidden from society.  Mirranda’s students have complex needs, passions, and fears.  Yet they are isolated from their families and their communities.  For example, when Mirranda helps one of her students to apply for university, she is dismayed to find that the only courses that support students with disabilities are about basic life skills.  Once again, the world of disability is restricted within a tiny bubble of uneducated assumptions.

I have often felt that navigating humanity is like being lost in the woods… …but for Julie, it seems like a complex network of streets in which she is desperately trying to put adequate signage at traffic lights.  While she works relentlessly, she is regularly stopped by a little alarm clock in her heart.  Without fail, at nine o’clock in the morning she leans towards me, and without me saying a word, she says, “I love you too Mirranda” – Hidden

Hidden is a short but memorable journey into forgotten lives.  It teaches compassion, and shows us the humanity we so often overlook.  This is a poignant must-read.  


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