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Nina Muehlemann's blog - disability arts online
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Thoughts on the WOW festival / 10 March 2013

This week I went to several events of the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre in London. I saw Claire Cunningham’s Ménage A Trois for the second time and a Q and A with Claire Cunningham, The WOW edition of CripTease, two very interesting talks that focused either on female queer identity, trans identity and gender or on fat. In the later, the lovely Dr Charlotte Cooper took part in, who I got to know because we both participated in the same mock beauty pageant for fat people, ‘Hamburger Queen’.

I think it is wonderful that such a wide spectrum of female identity, or identity in general, is represented at the WOW festival. It feels very inclusive and there is a feeling of respect and generosity in the air towards other performance of audience members that reminds me of the Unlimited festival – the difference being that the blistering cold sometimes dampens that spirit when people are competing ferociously for chairs or tables inside the Royal Festival Hall.

However, what I found slightly disappointing was the way all those events were separated from each other.  It would have excited me to hear how a queer perspective shapes the issues around fat, or to know disabled trans people’s thoughts on gender. To me, the intersections of those issues, and the way they shape each other, is immensely interesting. I know from research that queer theory, gender studies and disability studies can hugely profit from each other when one area’s framework or perspective is applied to another area.

Furthermore, most people’s identity does not just tick one box, so to speak, and for me, the way different parts of someone’s identity or lived experience shapes and forms their outlook on other things is much more interesting than to just hear their thoughts on the ‘identity box’ they seem to fit in most readily. To me, this is the point when people become vibrantly human and multidimensional.

It is certainly great that the Southbank Centre programmed the WOW with diversity in mind. However, I feel like in 2013, even more could have been possible. I wish the Southbank Centre’s events had encouraged this exchange, so that seemingly universal aspects about womanhood or humanity could be discussed and revaluated. I dare you, Southbank Centre, to have a talk next time that features Paris Lees, Charlotte Cooper, Campbell X and Penny Pepper. That would be truly a reason to celebrate.

Keywords: disability art,diversity