Tag Archives: arts

“The contributions and achievements of disabled people are largely left out of the history books” – Disability History Month

We continue to mark Disability Month with a blog about artist Frida Kahlo, an early 20th century artist whose work explored her feelings towards being disabled and how it affected her body as well as celebrating the life and culture of her native Mexico.

Sam Pugh, who is part of the Scope for Change campaign group and president of the Oxford Students’ Disability Community, writes about why Kahlo is her hero and why she should be remembered during Disability History Month.  

“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.” – Frida Kahlo

There are few disabled people as loved and iconic as Frida Kahlo.

It is thought she was born with Spina Bifida, a congenital defect of the spinal cord, and as a child she contracted polio. She was severely injured as a teenager in a bus accident, with her injuries causing her lifelong pain and ill health.

Frida Kahlo's painting Tree Of Hope - An abstract self portrait with the sun and moon in the background
Frida Kahlo’s painting Tree Of Hope

Following her accident she was unable to leave her bed for several months – it was during this time that she became serious about her painting and marked the start of her life as an artist.

Frida is famous for her surreal and intimate self-portraits, many of which express her pain, frustration, and anger towards her disabled body, but also her acceptance and self love.

Frida the revolutionary

Frida was a revolutionary, not just in her political leanings and open bisexuality, but in the frank way she depicted her disability. At a time when disability was very much hidden and a taboo subject, Frida Kahlo exhibited to the world the impact of her own impairment in striking detail and was unabashed in her portrayals of disability. She was a beautiful, intelligent, and fiercely talented disabled woman.

Frida Kahlo's painting The Broken Column - Showing the artist topless with a column running through her torso
Frida Kahlo’s painting The Broken Column

Frida Kahlo’s image is instantly recognisable, but this isn’t the case for many of the disabled people of our past. The contributions and achievements of disabled people are largely left out of the history books, and it is vitally important that we educate ourselves and others.

Frida Kahlo's painting Without Hope - showing the artist in bed throwing up a mass of body parts
Frida Kahlo’s painting Without Hope

Society’s attitude towards disability has for hundreds of years been one of shame, distaste, and suppression. Disability has always been something that has been hidden and stigmatised, and this is why Frida Kahlo’s depictions of her own are so striking.

Self Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill - Showing the artist sat in a wheelchair next to a portrait of an elderly man
Self Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill

Celebrating disabled people

By celebrating disabled people who have contributed to society throughout history and recognising their achievements, we can challenge the negative attitudes and stigma related to disability and disabled people that are still so prevalent in society today.

Disability History Month gives us the chance to do this, but we cannot rewrite the history books in a month. Recognition of the existence and contributions of disabled people is something we should strive to do every day, both from history and in the present.

We are so often excluded and stigmatised, and face particular hardship in education and employment as a result of these attitudes, which add barriers to us reaching our potentials. There is still a long way to go until disabled people receive truly equal treatment, and this isn’t something we can achieve until we rid society of the prevailing belief that disabled people are incapable of making positive contributions to it.

Celebrating historical figures such as Frida Kahlo and remembering their great achievements will not just change our attitudes towards the past, but allow us to alter our attitudes towards disabled people today and encourage a society which will never hold us back from achieving.

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month

“Some people don’t think autistic people can be creative” Callum, the performance poet

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Callum Brazzo is a 24 year old autistic performance poet and social entrepreneur from Lincolnshire. Performing his poetry at live events and on YouTube, he is getting a strong following.

As part of 30 Under 30, Callum talks about using poetry as an outlet and his new social venture, Spergy, which he has just set up.

My love for poetry was organic. It evolved out of my personal struggle. It was an escape for me because I was being bullied at the time. I was bullied for various things including my shyness, my lack of eye contact and my ticks. As they were physical ticks, people used to make fun of me because of those. I tended to push people away.

I became very depressed, I was on antidepressants and was juggled between psychologists. My emotions were very raw and I needed a platform to release that anger. My poetry was a way for me to communicate all of that in a positive way.

Giving something back

Poetry was and still is a positive outlet for me. I think everyone should try and find their own positive outlet.

‘Spergy’ is my social venture. It’s an arts based platform for people on or interested in the autistic spectrum.

It’s expressive, fun and free. I wanted to go give back to the community and offer an arts based outlet to them. Like I had whilst growing up. My personal journey has become a collective journey. That’s my way of giving back. 

There was no defined starting point, it just happened. We’ve really had to operate on a shoestring but I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved so far. It was so organic and it’s continuing in that fashion. The website is being built by the community. For example, there are certain groups already like poetry and food but people can add their own if they want. They can post whatever they like, it could be a painting or some photography.

Callum, a young disabled man, speaks into a microphone whilst wearing a tshirt that says Spergy

It’s in its infancy at the moment but I’d like to make it compatible with EyeGaze technology and make it possible for people to use the site in different ways.

I want people to make what they want to make and to feel appreciated and valued for their work. I’d really like people to benefit in meaningful ways.

Some people don’t think autistic people can be creative. They think we have a rigid mindset. ‘Spergy’ and I can help to dispel that myth.

Callum is sharing his story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. This is where we will be releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Catch up on all the stories so far on our 30 under 30 page.

Visit the Spergy website to find out more about Callum’s social venture. You can also like Spergy on Facebook and follow Spergy on Twitter.

Disabled Artistic Director talks about his work and the importance of inclusion

Robert Softley Gale is an Artistic Director at Glasgow-based theatre company, Birds of Paradise. He’s been acting and working in theatre for 15 years.

For World Theatre Day, he talks about his work and why inclusion is so important.

Getting in to theatre

I was at Glasgow University studying Business Management and I got a phone call from a theatre company in Edinburgh looking to employ disabled actors. At that point I’d never done any performing so I thought there’s no way I’ll get this job. I’d done a bit of amateur theatre but only ever backstage – directing or writing, stuff like that. But I was your typical cocky 21-year-old so I thought I’d give it a go, and I got the job. After that I just kept going.

Creating my own work

The amount of opportunities for disabled actors have come and gone over the years. I felt if I wanted to keep working I had to start creating my own work. I worked with the National Theatre in Scotland on a piece called ‘Girl X’ which did well, and I did a one-man show called ‘If These Spasms Could Speak’ that toured all over the world. When the job at Birds of Paradise came up, I felt ready to go in to making more of my own work and on a bigger scale.

I think there’s much more pressure on disabled artists. If I make something that’s crap, people go “oh he’s disabled, of course it’s crap”, but overall it’s a great challenge.

Making the arts more accessible

There are so many barriers for disabled people to work in the arts. A lot of it is attitudinal. People just don’t think disabled people can do the job. As a disabled actor there will be things you can’t do – but everyone has limitations. Every actor brings what they have to a role.

I worked for the Scottish Arts Council for two years, helping organisations become more accessible. When that role came to an end I set up flip with a colleague, to continue that. When organisations are advertising for roles, for example, where do they advertise? Do they say that they want to employ disabled people? If you don’t say that specifically, a lot of potential disabled employees will presume that the company won’t want them, because that’s been their experience over the years.

It’s also about expanding their networks. A lot of directors in Scotland say “I want to employ disabled actors but I don’t know any”. Well get off your bum and meet some – I can introduce you to about forty! On the whole, organisations want to do better. There’s just a lot of fear around getting it wrong and because of that, some people would rather do nothing.

Why it’s important that the industry is inclusive

I think the visibility of disabled artists is going to change attitudes generally. The fact that there are now disabled characters in soaps is a massive step forward. It normalises disabled people. They’re part of society so they should be part of film, TV, theatre or whatever. Disabled people’s stories haven’t been heard, so by putting us on stage, you’re putting our stories on stage. And that creates more interesting, more dynamic theatre that’s better for everyone.

I imagine a lot of non-disabled people think that if you’re disabled, all you’re ever thinking about is your disability but it’s not the case. It would be so boring if it was! To me, talking about gender or sexuality or politics, any of these things, it’s how we become more human and more real to people. That’s what I try to do with the work I make. Because if non-disabled people can look at us and go “well actually you’re not that different from me”, then we can change their perspective.

Robert’s latest show – Purposeless Movements – has been touring in Scotland.

‘Wendy Hoose’ by Johnny McKnight runs at the Soho Theatre, London from 12 April to 7 May. 

My life as performer with a learning difficulty

Guest post from Cian Binchy, a 25-year-old writer and performer from London who has autism. His one-man show, The Misfit Analysis, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe festival last month.

If somebody asked me, ‘Can you describe autism?’ I would say that question doesn’t make sense. Everyone experiences autism in a different way, and at the end of the day, I can only really describe my own autism.

Cian, a young man wearing a Beatles T-shirt, on a London street
Cian in Dalston, London, last month

When you have Asperger’s syndrome, you are on the very, very able end of autism and in many ways you’re almost like everyone else. But there’s just something little in you that is stopping you, and singles you out from other people. It’s very frustrating.

People think if you’ve got ‘high functioning’ autism you can cope in any situation, and that’s not true at all. I’m always struggling.

I became a performer because I want to educate people about the struggles that people in my position go through.

I want to entertain people, but I also want to make them think. I want people to really experience some of my art and some of the stuff that goes through my mind – and for people to be a bit more understanding of the kind of issues that people with autism have.

My show at the Edinburgh Fringe

The Misfit Analysis is basically about the struggles that I’ve had with autism, particularly as a young adult between 16 and 20 – not having much luck with going to colleges or getting work; failing to have a relationship.

It’s not really a straightforward play; it’s more of a performance, if that makes sense. There is audience participation, there are some videos, but predominantly it is a one-man show.

It’s humorous. It’s dark. It’s a bit twisted. It’s unorthodox. It’s funny. It’s a bit sad. It’s a bit scary. It’s educational. It’s thought-provoking. And it’s all based on my own experiences.

You’re either going to be laughing your head off or be freaked out!

I hope it’ll help people learn that autism is quite unpredictable and complicated, and that you can never be an expert on autism. I would like them to do a bit of research on autism and maybe get more involved in it – and take autism out of the ghetto, bring it into the mainstream.

Because a performer with a learning difficulty, I am in a minority within a minority. There are many disabled performers, but hardly any that actually have a learning difficulty.

Disabled people in the arts

Unfortunately, the performance art world is a very tough place for anyone, especially people with learning difficulties.

Cian sitting on the floor next to a wheelchair, holding a toy windmill and a tragedy mask
Cian in a promotional shot for The Misfit Analysis

I was a consultant on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time at the National Theatre, basically teaching the lead actor, Luke Treadaway, how to behave like someone who is autistic.

He was really good, but the sad thing is that often people who actually have got autism don’t really get a chance to perform. They don’t get a chance to go to a decent drama school; they don’t get the right education for that kind of performance. I actually wasn’t even getting paid for doing this work.

Whereas when you see me perform, it’s real. In my show I am actually performing my own disability – so when you see me, and when you see the kind of stuff I do, like spinning a tin opener, it’s real. It’s not just an act.

Cian is working with Access All Areas, a theatre company which produces work by disabled artists. Read a review of his show in the Guardian here.

Pssst! Disabled people like going to gigs

Disabled people, like anyone else, often want to see live music and arts performances. Whether it’s at a gig or festival, the issue of accessibility at these events is a hot topic right now, and we’re very glad!

Colourful flags flying at GlastonburyAccessible ticket sales at gigs and festivals have increased by 70% in the last year, according to research from Attitude is Everything, a charity that works to improve access to live music in the UK.

So here’s a little round-up of some great events happening this summer, which put accessibility right at their heart.

Why Not People

Sophie Morgan and Jameela Jamil smilingThe brilliant Why Not People are taking over our social media for the day tomorrow, to raise awareness of their accessible music events. They launch on 1 July, and they’ve got some amazing acts signed up including Tinie Tempah, Coldplay, Mark Ronson and Sam Smith, to name a few.

Their founder, Jameela Jamil says: “Why Not People ignores the notion of limits and discrimination and caters to all people for all walks of life. It is a chance for us all to party with the people we should have partied alongside all along. With accessible venues, the finest talent on the planet, we promise to put on gigs, events and club nights that you will never forget.”

Fast Forward Music Festival

A Paraorchestra consisting of seven musicians holding various instrumentsThe Fast Forward Music Festival will feature a flagship performance by the British Paraorchestra, the world’s first professional ensemble of disabled musicians, alongside the Inner Vision Orchestra, the UK’s only blind ensemble. The  festival aims to give its musicians, who are at the top of their game, the respect and critical attention they deserve.

The festival will also feature a mixture of seminars, workshops, open rehearsals and more celebrating of disabled arts and artists.

Disability Rocks

Young boy with Down's syndrome in red t-shirt at a festivalDisability Rocks is all about having a positive experience through music and arts.

They produce and deliver disability and family friendly festivals, including a range of live music, theatre and arts, with a few interactive workshops thrown in for good measure.

They have two more events coming up to finish off their summer tour – in West Yorkshire and Essex. Get your tickets!

New Forest Spectrum

A large house set in a field with lots of treesThis is the first ever British music festival for people with a learning disability, set up by two New Forest-based charities.

Set in 65 acres of woodland, they will be providing a safe environment where you can dance, watch bands perform, get involved with fun workshops, and eat some lovely food.

Although this one isn’t about making mainstream events inclusive and accessible, this seems like a step in the right direction. What do you think?

We hope this has got you excited for a summer of fun in the fields! Let us know if there are any accessible events happening near you.