Art installation

Thoughts on the exhibition

A sculptural installation. A light burns in a box covered with stretched red plastic.

I love the variety and scope of this exhibition. It absolutely proves that showing work by disabled artists isn’t limiting or restrictive. Possible all along includes painting, mixed media, photography, artist’s books, sculpture, installation and video.

All the work is from this year or last. Some of it was made during the pandemic. A couple of artists make specific references to Covid or to these unsettled times, for example, Hand washing by Nicole Murmann, a reflection on new ways of living; Corvid 19, where Si Denbigh calls up a series of crows; 2020 by Sarah Francis, which perhaps reflects the turbulence of the year.

I didn’t define a subject or theme for the exhibition. I intended it to be a collection of disabled artists’ work at this particular time and place. Themes have emerged, though. Identity as a disabled person is a strong theme, often linked to spaces and places. Much of the work is explicitly autobiographical, or is informed by the artist’s experience.

alabamathirteen is concerned with ‘navigating and negotiating … spaces and places … as a disabled woman’. The experience of bodily pain sometimes disrupts this movement through spaces, represented in the sculptures of Ruthie Reynolds.

Mindy Goose investigates disabled people’s connection to nature and the environment. While her photographs are close observations of nature, they have become abstract in this closeness and no longer identifiable as a particular place. Vickie Orton has made art from an instance of being denied access to nature, and to enjoying an activity with her family.

Lily Lavorato (pictured: Arse End of Nowhere) asks ‘how we form our sense of self when confronted with social and physical barriers’, in work that is deeply rooted in a specific geography and culture. Sarah Francis is also fascinated with the sense of self, particularly the creative self and the ‘duality of identity’.

Stephen Harvey makes art that raises complex issues about living independently and the treatment of disabled people in our society. Similarly, Alfie Fox brings his unique perspective as a disabled artist to work that often addresses accessibility.  Along with Kirsty Ramsay Hogan, whose work is designed to engage audiences on the street and in other public spaces, these artists use art to communicate and to provoke a reaction.

Ria too, uses slogans in her work, to inspire, to boost confidence and to make people think. ‘I am stronger’, proclaims the subject of one of her paintings.  Women’s power is also represented in the wrapped figures created by Judit Mathe.  These are women on the verge of bursting out of their constraints, rising like the phoenix.

One way or another, all the artworks in this exhibition draw on the artists’ experiences as disabled people. It is clear in the subject matter and in their statements.

I wanted to organise an exhibition of local disabled artists’ work because I feel that we just don’t see enough of it. Nervousness about labelling or ghettoising disabled artists means that disabled artists are made invisible. Plus, the lives and experiences of disabled people are not seen as worthy subjects for art.

Possible all along is disabled artists staking our claim on cultural space, being visible and making our lives and concerns visible. The exhibition shows that these are valid and worthy subjects for art, and that being a disabled artist is something to be proud of, rather than something to be kept hidden.

Gill Crawshaw