'Working Lives: Here & There' is the latest exhibition by DadaFest, a disability and deaf arts organisation based in Liverpool, aiming to explore disability and employment, not just locally in Liverpool, but worldwide, through photographs and supporting narratives of disabled people in their workplaces. Review by Jade French
53% of people with a disability are unemployed in the UK, and in other parts of the world unemployment figures for disabled people increase to over 90%. This exhibition not only highlights these disparaging statistics, but also aims to challenge myths surrounding disability and employment through positive depictions of disabled people in work.
It also leaves me with questions; what are people with disabilities experiences of employment? And what are the similarities and differences of the working lives of disabled people from across the world?
It's lunchtime. I'm walking down Castle Street alongside an army of suits in the heart of Liverpool's Commercial District. The choice of venue is interesting; it's a plush office building in the middle of a business centric location, not your typical gallery space.
I know the exhibition is a pop up so I'm not sure what to expect as the lift opens onto the sixth floor. The room itself is bright and spacious with brilliant views of Liverpool's industrial skyline, but it seems little has been done to transform what looks and feels like a corporate board room into an artistic space. Was this the intended experience perhaps? I'm undecided.
Giving the work another context and dimension, the exhibition is also a part of the 'International Festival of Business 2014', cleverly positioned to make a politically loaded statement. As you would expect the exhibit is wonderfully inclusive, yet I'm left wondering whether the choice of exhibiting in such corporate surroundings has affected my experience of the artworks.
The photographs displayed are a great mix of locations, jobs, experiences and photographic styles. For this exhibit DadaFest commissioned; Adam Lee, Ciara Leeming, Colin McPherson and Tom Wood, all experienced photographers based in the North West.
Alongside this group there are images from photographers as far and wide as Malawi, India, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. Looking at the images, what all of the photographers have done really well is capturing people positively, the work feels celebratory and not voyeuristic. But does this exhibition tell us anything about the similarities and differences between international working lives?
One similarity is evident; that gaining employment is an issue disabled people face – no matter where you live or where you were born. One of the biggest differences that the exhibition highlights is how radically employment rates for disabled people differ across countries.
What this small but politically charged exhibition achieves is starting a very important conversation about disabled people and employment. Whilst I'm not quite convinced it displays enough work to represent an international scope on this issue, it does reflect the brilliant work of DadaFest which is now in its 30th year, letting us know that this formidable organisation's roots are spreading internationally.
Working Lives Here & There is open at 43 Castle Street, Liverpool L2 9SH from 12 June to 25 July 2014 (Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) and in response, there is a series of three talks about employment, disability and art as a tool for social change. To find out more, visit: www.dadafest.co.uk/?p=3643