Anna Berry talks about Art and Social Change: The Disability Arts Movement, the show she curated at MAC Birmingham, Jan-Mar 2020 (27th Feb 2020)
Welcome to MAC and thank you so much for coming to this curator’s talk. This is the first show I’ve curated, so I’m very much a fledgling curator, and I really appreciate your support. I’m going to talk to just for 5 mins or so in here, and then talk to you about the work itself in the gallery space, and then wander back here to take any questions if anyone has any.
As you know the show is called Art and Social Change: The Disability Arts Movement.
Just to give you all a bit of an overview of the project as a whole, this came about because of an ambitious programme conceived by DASH (Disability Arts Shropshire), to place 3 Deaf or disabled artists in 3 institutions to train as curators. So, there’s me at MAC, and I’m coming to the end of my residency, which was a year. Aidan Moseby has just started a wee while back at MIMA in Middlesbrough, and there’ll be a third curator at Wysing in Cambridge. And the idea really is to try to create a little bit of social change within the sector, and try to influence some institutions to change their culture a little to be more accessible to disabled people. And also to see if we could somewhat infiltrate that kind of slightly gatekeeping sector of institutions and curators, on the premise that disabled artists will be more visible to disabled curators, and there’ll be a kind of virtuous circle whereby those disabled curators are more likely to include disabled artists’ work in shows, and thus representation is increased overall in the sector.
So I’ve been embedded in MAC for about a year, and I was lucky enough to be mentored by curator Jess Litherland, who was just brilliant, and incredibly generous in sharing her knowledge, and really just kind of looking after me a bit. And I got to just soak up lots knowledge and wisdom from her. And then I was let loose to cut my teeth on a couple of the smaller shows in the made-at-mac gallery upstairs, which shows the work of tutors and students. And there was no set outcome of my time here – it was open and flexible, but I decided I wanted to curate quite an ambitious group show, and put on a symposium day. So – I probably took the piss a bit to be honest, but it was such an amazing opportunity, and I basically wanted to be as ambitious as possible with it.
I chose to represent the Disability Arts Movement for several reasons. I know it’s a bit ‘on the nose’ as a disabled curator to do my first show about disabled artists, but it felt like exactly the right show for the space. I think it’s a show that the MAC audience are really interested in, and get drawn into finding out about something they maybe hadn’t otherwise thought about. And particularly because of the location within MAC. And also it’s an art movement, but it’s not one that many people have heard of, and it comprises such brilliant and actually really hefty work – so it was a real privilege to get to shine a light on what feels like quite underexposed work by placing it in a mainstream space. I also had to bear in mind what was happening in the main gallery at the time, because MAC likes to run quite a ‘joined up’ programme, so things relate to each other. And upstairs is a show called The Influence Project, which documents influential black musicians.
And the link that jumped out at me was via a guy called Vic Finkelstein, who came to UK from South Africa in the early 70s. He was both a wheelchair user and anti-apartheid campaigner, and he applied some of the principles he’d observed in anti-apartheid campaigns to disability rights. Along with a chap called Paul Hunt, he formed the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation. And this kind of kicked off a particular type of disability politics, which remains the dominant strand of disability politics today, and was really about shifting perceptions of disability to focus on the structural and social barriers that disabled people face, and away from the medical- or tragedy-orientated models that had previously dominated.
It was quite a research-heavy endeavour, obviously, and that part I found really difficult, because I struggle to remember and organise information, so I really did make a rod for my own back in that respect! But luckily I had Jess to keep me right! But I did a lot of trips to NDACA, which is the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, who have kindly lent us lots of work, and partnered with us in the show, and I spend lots of time chatting to their archivist, the brilliant Alex Cowan who’s just wonderful – a real encyclopaedia of knowledge and super lovely and helpful. We also borrowed from the Shape Arts Collection in London, and The Imperial Health Charity Art Collection and, of course, from many of the artists themselves.
The work I’m showing is really varied – some of it is difficult work, it’s hard to look at. Some of it is very funny – and has a very dark humour. Some of it is considered to be ‘off message’ in the context of disability politics – but it’s all incredible work.
It’s definitely all been a bit of a journey – to, er, quote the cliché – I have laughed, I have cried! And if I’m honest it’s really changed my life. I’ve kind of used this opportunity to start to build a bit of a new self – one who’s more confident that I have something to offer, and that I’m not a useless entity because I can’t work under the normal conditions. It’s such a humbling thing that actually all these people have been invested in both helping me find a way to thrive, and helping the disabled community to find more representation. So very many thanks to everyone at MAC and DASH for that.
So – The Disability Arts Movement! They were a group of artists around the late 80s and early 90s. And they sought to represent the disabled experience, and some of them were also activists trying to fight the marginalization of disabled people. Their work became very connected with the Disability Rights activists of the time, and the art itself really became woven into the protest culture. All of the awareness that this created was one of things that led to the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995. Lots of people feel there was and is still a long way to go, obviously, and the act left a lot to be desired, but this was progress.
As well as a selection of art works, I’m also showing some of the objects created and used by activists.
So – shall we go through to the gallery and take a look at the work?
Great Britain from a Wheelchair
This is ‘Great Britain from a Wheelchair’ by Tony Heaton OBE no less! Tony has been a practising artist since 1972, and he has quite a varied practise. Lately he’s been sculpting in marble a lot, but he also sculpts in wood, and some of his best known work is performance.
His work often very overtly critiques the barriers disabled people encounter. He was also well known in his capacity as CEO of Shape Arts, which is a disability arts organisation in London, for many years.
One of his more famous pieces is ‘Monument to the Unintended Performer’, which was commissioned for the 2012 Paralympics, and was installed on the entrance to Channel 4 TV Centre.
Anyway,this is ‘Great Britain from a Wheelchair’ – as you can see, it’s made from parts of two grey NHS wheelchairs. The idea is that from a bit of distance the jumble of parts resolves itself into a map of Great Britain, and the pun of the title becomes obvious. It’s such a playful piece, whilst having loads of impact, I think it’s got that flair of a show-stopper, which is why I chose it to start the show. It also has this great defined shadow on the wall. Allan Sutherland, another prominent figure from the Disability Arts Movement, describes it as a disability version of Picasso’s famous Bull’s Head, made of bicycle parts, which I think is very apt.
This is another Tony Heaton, a wood sculpture from Ash called Split. The idea is that the original piece of Ash would be discarded by a wood turner as useless because it had a ‘shake’, which is a fault or ‘spilt’. Tony draws the parallel with the way in which society can tend to discard that which is perceived as impaired. In the piece, the shake itself becomes the ‘I’ of the word ‘split’, as well as the ‘I’ representing self – so the fault is transformed from a negative, becoming essential; the beauty and understanding of the piece depends on the fault being there.
Nancy Willis Self-Portrait I-IV, Dry pastel on paper, 1983, Courtesy of Imperial Health Charity Art Collection
These are four self-portraits in pastel by Nancy Willis. I have to confess I just really fell in love with these pieces. A bit about Nancy: she has been exhibiting since the mid-70s. Her practise has moved through various stages including painting, printmaking, sculpture, mixed media and moving image. We’re actually showing her short film here at MAC – elegy to the Elswick envoy, which won Best Documentary at several international film festivals.
Nancy experienced a really restrictive education at what was called a ‘special school’, and so she really revelled in the freedom that becoming an artist gave her, in contrast. She conveys great human universals, such as human vulnerability with her work, but from the particular vantage of someone who is disabled. She says. “In telling my own story I hope to touch on the joys and sorrows we all share.”
About these pieces, Nancy describes her process “I had tentatively begun to use my art in a more personal way. Embarking on a series of self-portraits, I wanted to create new images of disability as a true expression of the lives we were living.”
She’s not afraid to show quite a moving sense of melancholy in the faces, but not in a tragic sort of way. In contrast, I find there’s a real joyful movement in the line and use of colour, and that adds to the sense of the wheelchair being an effortless extension of the body itself. They have this slightly modernist feel to them, but without being pastiche or too derivative.
These next two works are paintings by Colin Hambrook. Colin is an artist and poet as well as being editor of Disability Arts Online, and so he’s a huge figure in disability arts. Apart from his art, as an editor he publishes and showcases work by disabled artists. He has helped foster networks and enable debates around disability arts practice.
Colin’s experiences with the mental health system led to his involvement with the Campaign Against Psychiatric Oppression in the mid-1980s and then with Survivors’ Poetry in the early 1990s. A lot of his work is about this. He says: “Hovering below the surface, emotions of grief and loss have dominated my life journey and directed the course of my career as an artist and writer, leading me to work within the Disability Arts sector.”
Another reason it’s great to include this work is that it’s nice to have a representation of the mental health segment of the disability world.
The Hanging Man, acrylic on canvas, 1992, Courtesy of NDACA
This first piece is ‘The Hanging Man’ and was originally part of the “Dreams of the Absurd” exhibition, in which Colin showed work about the experience of being disabled by Psychiatry. Obviously, the use of colour here is really dramatic and spectacular. I don’t know Colin’s intentions with regards to the symbolism of the piece or how to read it, but I think we identify with the powerlessness of this person hanging upside down in the centre, who seems to be all turned around and at the mercy of forces beyond his or her control, and crowded in upon by some force of others, whether that is aspects of self, or outside forces.
Dirge of the Brickmen, oil on canvas, Courtesy of NDACA
The second Colin Hambrook is called ‘Dirge of the Brickmen’. I find this piece absolutely compelling. It seems to really attack society’s structures as a sort of assault on our humanity. There are these human creatures being fashioned into indistinguishable suit-wearing clones by red-suited men, who are injecting things into them, all overseen by a sort of bastardized Brittania with a union jack shield.
It reminds me a little of the cheery dystopian visions of Pushwagner, the Norwegian pop artist – don’t know if you’ve ever come across him.
So now we come to the first of 3 Adam Reynolds pieces. Adam Reynolds is one of the most significant artists in the show in terms of his wider recognition. He founded the Adam Gallery in south London in 1984, he was chair of Shape Arts and gave his name to the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, which was set up after his death to give opportunities for disabled artists to develop their work.
The three sculptures are from around 1990, and formed the inaugural pieces of the Shape Collection, from whom we have borrowed them, and I’ll loosely talk about all 3 at once.
Adam’s work was initially quite figurative – and you’ll see his Gargoyle piece later in the exhibition. He moved towards more abstract, and larger scale work in the 1990s. He described his work as part of a desire to “express apparent contradictions and to help others enjoy the contradictory nature of the universe”.
He did this most obviously, for example, in his lead series, which included a lead balloon and kite as well as the light bulb shown in this exhibition. He liked to use scrap materials and found objects, to try to provoke people to reconsider the value and beauty of overlooked and rejected ‘stuff’. He explained this tendency as being “founded on my lifelong experience of disability and the desire to challenge the commonplace assumption that this renders life all but useless and without value”. Adam said of being disabled: “I am clear that my greatest strengths stem from the fact of being born with muscular dystrophy, apparently my greatest weakness.”
So this piece here is called ‘Current’, and later you’ll see ‘Gargoyle’, and ‘Leaded Light’.
Adam Reynolds, Gargoyle, Sculpture, c 1990, Courtesy of Shape Arts
Adam Reynolds, Leaded Light, Sculpture, c 1990, Courtesy of Shape Arts
Adam Reynolds, Current, Sculpture, c 1990, Courtesy of Shape Arts
David Hevey, Adam Reynolds on a Red Cushion, Colour Photograph, 1990
This is actually a collaborative portrait of Adam himself, taken by David Hevey, who photographed and collaborated with many disabled artists in this period, and really reinvented portrayals of disabled people, creating something very much in contrast to the images used in, for example, charity campaigns. It’s a really interesting photograph, because obviously on first view it feels quite exploitative – Adam is shown to be helpless, and we literally ‘look down’ on him from our elevated viewpoint. But actually, it’s a collaboration, and it’s a playful satire of a pernicious stereotype – the needy disabled beggar. The term ‘handicapped’ was already outdated by then, but some charities continued to use it, despite negative connotations. Adam and David are mocking this absurdity
Tanya Raabe Webber
Now to Tanya Raabe Webber. What an incredible artist. I have unabashedly included loads of her work. That’s partly because her early work is so different from her later work, but both are important in different ways, so I felt it was fair to treat her essentially as two different artists.
Tanya’s early work has this kind of vibrant and punk-like sensibility, a sort of care-free collage along with joyful application of paint and quick elegant line. Long necks and elongated limbs reference the distorted bodies of Francis Bacon. It’s very coherent as a body of work – themes that reoccur include womanhood, beauty, pregnancy and disabled identity. Tanya says her work focusses on “issues that are born out of my life experiences as a woman and a disabled person. I am an artist and a disabled artist creating images of myself in my environment that’s dominated by a society obsessed with physical beauty and perfection. I analyse and challenge some of the stereotypes and myths surrounding disability developed through years of misrepresentation concerning the body beautiful.”
Tanya says of her personal connection to the Disability Arts Movement “Disability art is part of my history and I am part of its history. This is an art movement that has not been recognised by art historians. Disabled artists have yet to be valued and recognised as professional and take their place in art history.”
I think all of these pieces bear close scrutiny. (wheelchair hospital bed) This one, for example, called ‘Giving Birth to the Human Race’, depicts a wheelchair giving birth to the Disability Arts Movement. The machines represent access, and hence humanity. The Wheelchair is collaged from Tanya’s own leather skirt. (above with eyes) And in turn, this piece ‘Disabled Artist: It’s a Cultural Reference’ is a self-portrait examining Tanya’s self-identity as a disabled artist, by referencing the previous work (‘Giving Birth to the Human Race’). Here, Tanya is offering up her work to the world. As Tanya explains: ‘The crutches represent strength and are what hold the core of what I do. The eyes are the wider world and look upon this unrecognised genre with wonderment!’
(writing) This one, ‘My History of Art’, is a defiant self-identification as a disabled artist, asserting the validity of Disabled culture. Tanya says “Here I give birth to myself as an artist. I use my written artist’s statement to frame my painting easel practice, whilst the heart-shaped head and ‘ooooh’ lips have a clown-like quality, subverting my gaze, challenging perceptions of the artist’s identity within the mainstream. I am a DISABLED ARTIST- it’s a cultural reference!”
(transport) This is one of my favourites: ‘Up Lift Off Lifetime Two’, and it’s about the experience of train travel as a disabled person in the 1990s. Before access assistance ramps, it was usual to be man-handled onto a train by staff. Tanya describes how “They would stand behind me, put their arms under mine, and my crutches, to lift me onto the train. This often resulted in being lifted under or by my breasts! A physical assault of my personal and human rights!” The painting explores physical assault, humour, disability rights, and humanity; nevertheless, there is a playful quality to it.
Tanya’s later work is very different but also much more well-known. She creates portraits of high-profile disabled people and challenges ideas of identity within portraiture. She often creates these during live sittings in art galleries. In her more contemporary work, she uses a mixture of traditional and digital painting and drawing techniques, often fusing the two together in an interactive live environment, inviting physical and online audiences to join in.
These portraits are taken from two large bodies of Tanya’s work. ‘Who’S WhO: Defining the Faces of an Arts Movement’, and ‘Revealing Culture: Head On’. In these bodies of work, she continues to challenge notions of identity as well as the nude, using disability aesthetics and visual language within the context of contemporary portraiture. She often paints leading lights of Disability Arts who pioneered disability arts and culture in a society that values perfection, beauty and normality.
Sir Bert Massie, oil on canvas, 2011, Courtesy of NDACA
This is one Sir Bert Massie, who sadly is no longer with us. He was a disability rights campaigner and was Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission and a founding Commissioner of its successor, the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Massie was a Conservative, and I partly wanted to include him to show that campaigning for change for disabled people was a cross-party endeavour.
Nabil Shaban, oil on canvas, 2011, Courtesy of NDACA
This is the wonderful Nabil Shaban who is one of the founders of the acclaimed Graeae Theatre Company, which challenges preconceptions by placing Deaf and disabled actors centre stage. So much of the Disability Arts Movement happened actually within performance contexts like theatre, performance poetry, and music, so it’s nice to be able to represent that somewhat here, even though this show is obviously visual art.
Deborah Williams, oil on canvas, 2011, Courtesy of NDACA
Likewise, Deborah Williams is an activist and theatre-maker. She is Executive Director of the Creative Diversity Network, and has been involved with creating and implementing diversity policy across many organizations, including Arts Council England. Deborah played a significant role in the implementation of both the Disability Discrimination Act, 1995, and the Equality Act 2010.
Allan Sutherland, oil on canvas, 2008, Courtesy of NDACA
This is Allan Sutherland, he’s a poet and writer, and really one of the key figures in the Disability Arts Movement. His award-winning book, ‘Disabled We Stand’ (1981), is a classic text of the movement and his 1998 paper ‘Footprints in the Sand’ pointed out the importance of preserving disability arts for the future. He also compiled a ‘Chronology of Disability Arts’ in 2003, which is a valuable resource for those studying the movement, and for the development of the NDACA.
Tony Heaton OBE, Raspberry Ripple, Neon, Courtesy of the artist
Now we come to a big favourite in the show. This is Tony Heaton’s ‘Rasberry Ripple’. The pink neon makes me so happy! ‘Raspberry Ripple’ is the rhyming slang for ‘cripple’. Tony talks about reclaiming this kind of language, saying “cripples resurrect it in Crip culture and Crip humour, it is ours to own”.
Like in so much of Tony’s output, there’s this playful aesthetic, yet there is a ‘deficit’ – the silent ‘p’ of ‘Raspberry’ is missing. This is a kind of metaphor for the perceived impairment of disability, but also perhaps an implied sacrifice, relating to the cross form the piece takes.
Now we come to Tom Shakespeare. Tom is a very much a polymath, and has quite a big public profile, so I’m sure many of you will have come across him – he’s on Radio 4 quite a lot and that sort of thing. He’s primarily an academic, with a focus on disability and ethics. But he’s also a stand-up comedian, artist, and author.
The Nightmare (after Fuseli), 2008, framed Giclee print, Courtesy of Shape Arts
The piece of Tom’s I’ve chosen to include is part of a triptych of pieces he created that reference and respond to famous artworks that centre on the theme of human embodiment, and is Tom’s largest body of visual art to date. This piece is ‘The Nightmare (After Fuseli)’. The original work is very famous and much referenced by artists – there’s a picture of it here – Fuseli paints a woman, either swooning or sleeping, who has a creature sitting on her chest, representing a nightmare she is having.
I think Tom’s reimagining is playing off able-bodied people’s reactions to non-normative bodies, and is quite provocative. It certainly gets a lot of attention I’ve noticed since we’ve hung it, and often people don’t quite know how to respond to it. Tom himself says it alludes to the complex moral dilemmas that pregnant women face in today’s society: “We live in an era where pregnancies can be screened for more and more conditions, and this causes immense anxiety and moral quandaries for many women… Whether to have a test, or not, whether to terminate the pregnancy, or not.”
You can hear Tom speak at my symposium day here on the 11th March.
I’m now moving into what I think of as my more overtly activist section. I’ve kind of colour coded it with the light grey.
Shaken not Stirred, Performance, 1992, photographs and collection tin courtesy of NDACA
This is the final Tony Heaton in the show. I think this is really an immensely important piece. It’s a performance called ‘Shaken not Stirred, and was part of the Block Telethon campaign in 1992. There were two block telethon campaigns, and they were very significant in galvanising people to protest and join disability politics. You may remember the ‘Telethon’s on ITV which raised money. It was protested on the basis that disabled people needed social rights, like basic access to transport and work, rather than charity, and also on the grounds of the really patronising way in which they were depicted in these campaigns.
In this performance a seven-feet high pyramid of 1,760 charity collecting cans was brought crashing to the ground as Tony threw a prosthetic leg into it. You can see photos of the happening here, and we have one of the charity tins. The pyramid alludes to the hierarchical nature of the charity system, whilst Tony’s powerful destruction of it suggests the collective power of disabled people.
This a great little timeline we got from NDACA showing when some of the significant events happened if you want to browse it later.
Here in the archive cases we have lots of activist objects from the time.
There’s the classic ‘Piss on pity’ t-shirt – ‘piss on pity’ is a disability rights slogan, believed to be coined by Johnny Crescendo (Alan Holdsworth), but also featured in Ian Stanton’s ‘Tragic but Brave’ (which you can hear at the listening post.)
This one – ‘Block telethon disability pride’ t-shirt – refers to the telethon protests I mentioned earlier. There is no record if this was from the first or second ‘block telethon’ protest, but likely the second as that was more organised.
This is definitely my favourite t-shirt – ‘Disability rights the final frontier: to boldly go where all others have gone before’ – DAN (direct action network) t-shirt – part of a campaign for accessible transport.
There’s posters here from various different locales across England, ‘Valid: Access to Change Through the Arts’ poster, Bradford; ‘Tyneside Disability Arts’ poster 1 (Barbie in wheelchair) I particularly like this one: ‘Disabled people bite the hand that patronises’ – NDAF (national disability arts forum) poster
There are some Cassettes of the protest music, and you can hear some of the protest music at the listening posts.
There’s also a political rosette ‘Disabled people say don’t vote tory’ – from Allan Holdsworth collection (’92 or ’97 election). Feels a bit – you know – plus ca change!
Down here we have some pictures of Steve Cribb risking arrest at a bus protest in 1990. And I’m going to talk about him a bit more in a moment.
I basically wanted this section to have quite a punky feel because all of this stuff is so delightfully home-made, and so full of disruptive and anarchic spirit, so do have a browse.
So – moving onto Steve Cribb. These are his cartoons and I’m a huge fan of his work. He was an artist, writer, politician and disability activist, he was renowned for his early digital print-making, and his use of humour to explore disability issues and encourage engagement with disability culture and politics.
Steve was an early adopter of digital technologies in order that he could continue to draw. He said, “As I lost the ability to draw with my hands, I became more and more intent on producing pictures.” In 1989, when his impairment meant he could no longer work with a paintbrush, he started using his Mac computer to convert head movements into cursor movements to create images. He described this moment as a “significant date in [his] life- the year [he] started to paint again.” This also meant he was a strong advocate of the artist’s vision as the primary component of art, and used artists’ assistants to realise his paintings.
Steve was a passionate supporter of the Disability Arts Movement, describing it as “one of the highlights of our struggle”. However, he was also a keen critic of disability arts. In 1992 he published a controversial article in Disability Arts In London (DIAL) Magazine, entitled ‘Are Disabled Artists Cotton-Wooled?’, in which he expressed his opinion that disability arts needed to be more open to rigorous critique. And you can see that article at the end of the show.
It’s worth having a browse of all of these, they’re great. This one for example shows two wheelchair-using stick people on ropes on a cliff and is captioned “Survey of Dropkerbs in Tibet and Nepal”. You can see the crip humour in some of these – for example, this one is a picture of a wheelchair user with horns, captioned “Tragically, their son was a bad spastic”. There’s one here that eagle-eyed people who are familiar with disability politics will realise is edgy – there’s a wheelchair user on a desert island saying “I guess if disability is a socio-economic phenomenon, I’m cured!” – which is gently pointing out some of the intrinsic absurdity of the social model of disability.
I felt that, although this is obviously primarily a visual arts show, it was important to feature at least some of the performance pieces, like the music, because things like protest songs and live poetry formed a huge part of the disability arts movement. So I’ve picked out two songs here, both of which become disability anthems – Johnny Crescendo’s ‘Choices and Rights’ from 1988, and Ian Stanton’s ‘Tragic but Brave’ from 1992 – so do have a listen later if you get the chance.
Johnny Crescendo, Choices and Rights, 1988
Johnny Crescendo (aka Alan Holdsworth) was part of the original Tragic But Brave Cabaret line-up, along with Ian Stanton and Barbara Lisicki, which toured relatively mainstream venues. He also founded the Direct Action Network, which was a disability rights group advocating civil disobedience.
Here’s some lyrics from ‘choices and rights’:
“I don’t want your benefit
I want dignity from where I sit
I want choices and rights in our lives
I don’t want you to speak for me
I got my own autonomy
I want choices and rights in our lives”
(from ‘Choices and Rights’, Johnny Crescendo, 1988)
And here’s some lyrics from Ian Stanton’s ‘Tragic But Brave’:
Ian Stanton, Tragic but Brave, 1992
“They are brandishing banners
They are pissing on pity
And they celebrate difference
Aaron Williamson, Singing DDA, live performance, 2017
Here I’ve cheekily slipped in a more contemporary piece. Because towards the end of the show I wanted to develop a more critical strand. Deaf artist, academic, and provocateur, Aaron Williamson, for example, is very critical of the shortcomings of the DDA or Disability Discrimination Act, and argues that in the 10 years following the act, employment rates for disabled people actually went down.
As a comment on its failings, Aaron busks the 30-page DDA as an improvised song in Folkestone, to the chords of D, D, and A. It’s earsplitting but very funny.
So the final artist to introduce is Eddy Hardy. I think both these works are quite difficult really, quite uncompromising and difficult to look at. Eddy wanted to address the lack of art which reflected the disabled experience. He says: “At that time there was very little in the way of issue-based art or anything that I felt was ‘Disability Art’; for me that meant art created by disabled people, primarily for an audience of disabled people that dealt with issues around Disability Culture including discrimination.”
Eddy Hardy, Freak Show, lithograph on paper, 1990-91, Courtesy of NDACA
This piece is called Freak Show, and is an early piece, produced during his degree. It’s obviously drawing parallels between the circus freak shows of the past, which objectified physical difference, and Eddy’s contemporary experience as a disabled person of being ‘othered’ and stared at because of being visibly different.
His style changed over time, developing towards large scale nude self-portraits dealing with sexuality, disability and identity. This interestingly mirrors a similar development in the Disability Arts Movement. Disability Arts Online Editor, and a contributing artist in this exhibition, Colin Hambrook said: “Up to that point the movement was about getting people out of institutions, fighting for the means of independent living. From 1990 onwards is when art became more prominent in the struggle for Disability Rights.”
Eddy Hardy, Self Portrait, mid 1990’s, Courtesy of NDACA
This is the self-portrait, produced during a residency in Bristol with Artists First, an organisation who were among the first to take up residence at what is now known as Spike Island. The piece depicts a naked man, facing away from us, in what is possibly a posture of shame, with scars or bruising on his back. It provokes reflection upon our attitudes to beauty, disability and sexuality.
So – finally – we come to the end. The last two little bits, which are kind of my coda, are a picture from the back of a magazine called the Disability Arts and Culture Papers, which shows many of the key figures from the movement and this show. And also the short piece of Steve Cribb critique I mentioned earlier.
So that’s it – I really hope you like it and I’ll head back to the theatre now, in case anyone has questions, and otherwise take some time to browse and enjoy.