Disability Arts Online

> > > Anne Teahan - Sharing Cultures: Disability and Visibility

Introduction

With the help and support of DAO I have now completed a research project: ‘Sharing Cultures: Disability and Visibility’ - supported by ACE.

My DAO blog detailed the week I spent in Washington DC, seeing the ‘Revealing Culture’ exhibition, curated by VSA, America’s International Organization on Arts and Disability, and hosted by the Smithsonian Institution. I interviewed Washington-based artists and Ellen Dorn the Smithsonian’s Director of Special Exhibitions. Axis commissioned an article inspired by the exhibition. The final body of work is now published here after a year of research.

The ‘Revealing Culture’ exhibition was part of a huge international festival of Disability Arts. Among 54 exhibiting artists, 5 were British; other individuals came from Guatemala, Azerbaijan and Australia: the majority were from all parts of the United States.

With so many quality artists sharing a prestigious Smithsonian venue, under a disability banner, this exhibition offered a rare opportunity for research: would the art reveal shared themes? Would the experience of disability, work its way into the art of such a diverse and international group of artists?

It was also an opportunity to ask artists questions about themselves: How do they see disability in relation to their creativity? What does it mean to exhibit under a disability banner? And I hoped to get an idea of how British and American approaches to these things may differ. What can we learn from each other?

For ‘Sharing Cultures’ I devised five questions which I put to artists in the form of extended face-to-face interviews, questionnaires or email conversations. In total, twenty seven artists have generously participated in the project in some way - with thoughtful and enthusiastic contributions to discussion, or shared images of their work.

Stephanie Moore, VSA’s Director of Visual Arts (1992-2010), who produced ‘Revealing Cultures’ and Ellen Dorn, the Smithsonian’s Director of Special Exhibitions have given an American perspective.

The artists’ answers are fascinating and wide ranging. They deal with themes of disability, creativity and identity. Some very clear cultural differences emerge, for example, in the interpretation of the word ‘Disability’ itself and in the presence or absence of a political perspective. But there are many areas of shared experience, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Anger at discrimination, pride in creativity; artistic ambition, political pragmatism, resistance to categorisation … all sides and shades of experience are presented here in the artists’ own words.

To see images of the work of the artists interviewed, go to Gallery one and Gallery two.

Please read, enjoy and share your own thoughts and responses.

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