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The City of London laughs in the face of the plight of disabled people with the erection of a new/ old Damien Hirst monument

A statue by artist Damien Hirst which according to the Evening Standard “aims to challenge our prejudices around disability” was recently installed next to St. Helen’s Church and opposite the Gherkin in London’s Square Mile.

The seven-metre high sculpture, called Charity (2003), is a replica of a 1960s Spastic's Society charity collection box depicting a disabled young girl clutching a teddy bear and a collection tin.

The Standard goes on to say that Hirst said he “aims to question society's historical tradition of representing charity as a pitiful image.”

So, firstly you have to ask yourself, why? And at a time when disabled people are suffering more than any other community within society as a result of the increasing prejudice and discrimination being expounded by the media and government.

Both FAD Magazine and Artylst tell us that “Hirst’s Charity revolutionises the classical practice of elevating a noble subject, by selecting the dejected image of a disabled girl with her leg in a splint and depicting the charity box having been broken into.”

What utter drivel. And yet another example of 'disability' being used and exploited by the rich and powerful as a commodity for trafficking ideas and power. Since the 2012 Paralympics it seems that we have gone beyond 'disability'. We live in such an equal society now, apparently ‘disability’ no longer exists.

'Disability' has been written out of the benefit system. Access to Work has been cut and the Independent Living Fund is no more. And now, of course, we hear the government want to make further steps to legalise killing us off.

Yet Hirst deems it appropriate to celebrate the fact that the 'disability' begging box has been broken into and the few meagre pennies we had have been stolen, right in the middle of the biggest self-serving tax haven and money laundering centre in the world.

As a movement we’ve always given ‘pity’ bad press. Johnny Crescendo urged us to 'piss on pity' when it seemed we were fighting for a more just world. But society has gone so far in proving that any form of compassion is outmoded and that as a result society itself no longer exists.

We’re just a group of individuals stacked up against each other like pawns in a China shop, self-righteous about the need to throw away anyone who doesn’t justify their worth to the economy. Even then, the logic of throwing away the ILF and the Access to Work Scheme doesn’t bear thinking about. The amount of money wasted by disavowing disabled people from making a contribution through employing PAs, paying tax. etc. is sickening.

A fertile discussion raged on Dao’s FB group in the last couple of days, instigated by blogger Deborah Caulfield.

The first thing you realise is how utterly lacking in imagination Hirst and the producers of Sculpture in the City are. I mean, come on, a sentimental 1950s image of a young disabled girl begging in a short skirt. The crowbar and the scuffed appearance are probably reminders of how sick people got of these objects on the streets in the 1970s. My own memory is that they always stood, vandalised and broken into.

Simon Raven reminded us that by far the best artistic treatment of the charity-box pity theme was by Katherine Araniello who did an ironic imitation, collecting for the Sick Bitch Crips. (As an aside Araniello is performing in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall on 25 July as part of One City One Day)

Simon also suggest a group coming together to organise a 'Beggars Banquet' event at the foot of the sculpture to address our concerns. Anyone else up for it? 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 7 July 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 7 July 2015

Congratulations to Mat Fraser for the recent award given to Cabinet Of Curiosities: but isn’t Disability being firmly put back in a box?

It was good to hear that Mat Fraser has won the Arts and Culture Award category in the Observer Ethical Awards 2014 for his show Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability was kept in a Box.

I interviewed Mat before the show went on tour and was wowed by his performance in the Science Museum earlier this year. For me it was akin to the kinds of cabaret performance we, in the disability arts movement, were lucky to see Mat do 20 years ago: Mat, angry, proud, projecting a cynical humour advocating for disabled peoples’ rights by giving exposure to the Social, Medical and Charity Models of Disability.

Always anarchic, linking karate-kicking raps with observations of how 'disability' is a personal and social role, which simultaneously invalidates people with impairments and validates those identified as 'normal'.

So it surprised me to read in the Guardian’s coverage of the award by Rhik Samadder that the journalist interprets the show, by saying “One of the show's aims is to normalise disability.”

Disability will never be ‘normalised’. Paul Darke, argued back in the late 1990s in his Now I know Why Disability Art is Drowning in the River Lethe paper, that the inclusion agenda was always in danger of sanitising disability to the extent that endangered disabled peoples’ rights.

The assertion of the potential normality of disabled people to fit in - went against the principles of Disability Arts precisely because it sought to ally with the cultural agendas of the arts establishment, rather than the values of the disabled peoples’ movement.

And it looks like Paul’s warning is coming to pass as the current dismantling of the welfare state continues to threaten disabled peoples’ lives. With precious little comment from the media, measures which, under the pretext of saving taxpayers money (but which with a  terrible irony are costing more than the sums allegedly saved) are leaving more and more disabled people in a desperate state of poverty.

The latest epistle under the reign of the current unelected government, is to do away with the Independent Living Fund - a fund set up because it was realised from an economic viewpoint that it was more cost-effective to give disabled people direct support in their own homes - as opposed to locking people away in institutions. So we are going to see disabled peoples’ support needs taken away and replaced once again with high cost institutions allowing little, if any, quality of life.

I wonder if the subtext of Mat’s show should be How Disability is being pushed back in a Box. In his show Mat compares Nazi propaganda images and asks how easily those images can be applied to the strategies of Atos and the DCMS, working specifically to disenfranchise disabled people.

The ILF helps over 18,000 severely disabled people to live independent lives in the community rather than in residential care.

The government announced on 6 March 2014 that it will close the ILF in June 2015.This is the second attempt by the government as last time the Court of Appeal found that the government had breached the equality duties.

The government now claims to have got around the court findings and says it will devolve the money to Local Authorities for 12 months with no ring-fencing.

After June 2016 there will be no additional funding for already cash-strapped local authorities to meet their legal obligations.

Please, help us in the campaign to stop the government's latest attack on disabled people.

Four easy steps to campaign:
1.    Email your MP now to help save the ILF and encourage all your friends and family to do the same
2.    Sign the ILF petition to government
3.    Tweet #savetheILF and Facebook the link to the e-action - www.pcs.org.uk/savetheILF - so others can join the campaign

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 16 June 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 26 June 2014