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Disability Arts Online

War scene illustrating tanks moving across a bleak landscape

Painting by Rachel Gadsden entitled Touching Angels (Iraq)

Disability Perspective

Rachel Gadsden's extraordinary Touching Angels, won the Peoples' Choice award. As far as the disability context goes, it was the one landscape, which transcended the convention. I've often wondered why so little Disability Arts focuses on war, as a theme - it being one of the major, and certainly the most horrific, causes of disability.

On a frivolous and lyrical note, I loved Alyson Lomas' pen and wash portrait, affirming the power of difference. But as a whole I was struck by the fact that work by Jon Adams, Olivier Jamin, Sunny Chana, Caroline Cardus, Barbara Romain and Angela Edmonds all used text / language as a theme. It was an aspect of the show I found intriguing. Perhaps this is because the disability perspective is about redefining language and taking control of the perception of our authentic experience as disabled people. Angela Edmonds summed it up with the epitaph on her Casket: Just because you're fit, doesn't mean you'll live longer. In context it resonates as a cutting epitaph against day-to-day prejudice.

Competitive exhibitions rarely hang together. Despite some stunning, original and thought-provoking work, this exhibition was no exception. Firstly, there was too much work - and secondly a big disparity in terms of quality of materials and presentation. It also seemed a mistake to include work that didn't burst out of a disability context. There was surely enough in that vein to fill the gallery, without trying to cover every bit of wall space in a Royal Academy Summer Show-style hanging. Maybe the context doesn't always have to be apparent? But I felt the disability perspective within the interior and exterior landscapes (which as it happens, included my own daubings), was only evident with reference to the artists' statements.

This was a daring attempt to take Disability Arts to another level. I hope the competition develops as an annual event - perhaps even a travelling exhibition? Elements of this exhibition could have easily commanded an airing in a more prestigious, mainstream setting. It is important we push the quality debate further. As much as anything else it could become a crucial marketing tool for the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, based at Holton Lee. But the exhibition revealed that some artists are maybe not quite ready for this kind of exposure - and I'm including myself here.