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1 December 2009

Introduction

DAO reports on the context, quality and opportunities provided by the Art of Difference Conference and Momentum09

Colin Hambrook, editor of DAO, attended both the Art of Difference Disability and Deaf Arts Festival at the Gasworks, Melbourne from 10-21 March 2009 and the Momentum09 one-day conference in Auckland on 27 February 2009.

This report sets out to précis debates which took place at the Art of Difference Festival Symposium. It also places in context interviews with a range of individuals and organisations concerned with Disability Arts and the practice of disabled artists. It looks at the cultural differences between approaches in Australia in comparison to Disability Arts development in the UK.

On his travels, Colin also visited Back to Back Theatre and the Karingallery in Geelong, Restless Dance Theatre and the No Strings Attached Theatre. He also gave a presentation at the Disability Arts Forum South Australia.

Background: Both Dao and Art of Difference are concerned with moving forward the agenda for self-determination by disabled and deaf artists. The Social Model of Disability has been one of the key tools to furthering Disability Arts within the UK. My impression is that the Social Model has been less influential in Australia than the agenda for inclusion as a tool for supporting the development of work by disabled and deaf artists.

This is reflected in the generally accepted term to describe disabled artists in Australia: ‘artists with disabilities’. This has evolved out of a will to downplay the disability agenda and to present the work produced as coming from artists, with an emphasis on the artistic credibility of the work. This is in contrast to the UK where Disability Arts has been fired by a political will to use artistic expression as a way of empowering disabled people.

Disability Arts in Australia came into being from the other side of the coin. The movement is predominantly focused on how to make the Arts accessible for disabled people as practitioners and as audiences. Within that dialectic, the notion has evolved that to be accessible, the Art has to be of a professional calibre to reach a wider audience.

In the UK, Disability Arts has sprung from a political lobby pushing to counter discrimination. In Australia, the aspiration - beyond a community arts ethos - has been to create work which can stand critically alongside ‘mainstream’ Art.

Most of the arts development workers, producers, directors, curators, etc. are however non-disabled. The amount of insight into how the work is informed by the disability experience is therefore extremely variable.

Outcomes: My impression from Art of Difference was that for many of the artists at the festival ‘normalisation’ - as expressed in arguments written by UK disability academic Dr Paul Darke - is seen as the way forward within the Australian arena for Disability Arts development. As such, it could be argued that it isn’t Disability Arts, if we understand Disability Arts as an art form with the intention of directly challenging discrimination of disabled people.

For Art of Difference and for many Disability Arts companies and agencies within the UK, including Dao, key questions we wish to address include how do we raise awareness and foster an understanding of the work of disabled and deaf artists, which in turn supports the development of artistic practice? More and more it has become accepted that artists need to be working within mainstream settings and looking at widening the net of audience development.

The intention behind Art of Difference was to look at how we broaden the debate and how we provide a way into looking from alternative perspectives at the issues which underlie Arts practice. It was useful being a part of these discussions since they reached outside the political perspectives around Social Model understandings which have been a foundation stone for the Disability Arts movement in the UK.

Due to lack of funding, Momentum09, held in Auckland, New Zealand, was pared down from a four-day festival to a one-day event. It remained a useful occasion though for making connections with a range of disabled artists and with Momentum specifically.

Momentum has similar key aims and objectives to dao. An important result to emerge from the event was a directive to pursue Creative Momentum as an international online discussion and debating journal aimed at increasing awareness and appreciation of creative diversity.

Politics of Disability

Differences between the history of the development of Disability Arts in Australia and in the UK

In the UK, the Social Model has empowered disabled people and provided an intellectual base from which the disabled peoples’ movement has been able to place its concerns within a political arena. It has however largely lacked the scope to create a forum for Arts practice outside of the disability 'ghetto'.

A few companies - notably Graeae Theatre Company - and some individual disabled artists - such as Ben Cove, Benedict Phillips, Mat Fraser, Katherine Araniello, Aaron Williamson - have created collaborations with mainstream organisations in recent years. The agenda to open the Arts up to disabled people, as practitioners and as audience, has been a slow incremental process often aided by initiatives from within Disability Arts organisations supported by the Arts Council.

The polemical stance toward artistic practice taken by the Disability Arts movement in the 1990s has though, I believe, led to a form of stasis in which Social Model thinking has become a barrier to artistic development as much as it has been a tool for liberation.

Now within the UK, however, the Disability Arts movement is waking up to the fact that a lack of discussion in the past around artistic practice and aesthetic has hindered and perhaps undermined development of Disability Arts and individual practioners.

The loyalties of Disability-led organisations within the UK Disability Arts movement have been divided between these two agendas. On the one hand, wanting to advance the agenda for inclusion and, on the other, being driven to support the creation of experimental or cutting-edge work.

One particular dilemma which has arisen for emerging professional disabled and deaf artists is that capacity issues for the organisations servicing their needs have impacted on delivery of what they now need. While the Disability Arts movement emerged from political stances, the organisations that grew up around this are now no longer placed financially and practically to help artists effectively in their bid step out into the mainstream.

In Australia, debate around the undoubted specific aesthetic that disabled and deaf artists and performers bring to the Arts has been unhindered. At the Art of Difference however, while the aim of such projects has been to increase participation in the Arts, understanding of the Social Model and its influence on Disability Arts practice seemed limited.

This is because Australia has seen little political activism driven by disabled people. It therefore means that the creation and development of artistic practice has largely been in the hands of non-disabled people. As a result, there appears to be a real lack of critical awareness of disabled peoples’ concerns and motivations for creating Art.

Aside from the few disabled artists actively pushing the agenda for the unique and empowering perception of disability afforded to Disability Arts, the work presented at Art of Difference, while making an attempt to be open to as wide a range of opinion and practice as possible, was largely motivated by an agenda for inclusive practice.

The argument goes, ‘Why should disabled and deaf people be perceived as any different from everyone else?’

The fact is though, we are undeniably different in divergent and unique ways which inform our artistic practice which in turn has an undoubted, direct impact on our ways of working.

Back to Back Theatre

I came away with some great insights after interviewing Bruce Gladwin, director of Back to Back Theatre, through watching the company in rehearsal and seeing Back to Back actress and writer, Sarah Mainwaring, present with Bruce at the Art of Difference Symposium.

Back to Back has been going for 21 years and is seen by most as the leading disability performance company in Australia. With a massive track record for national and international touring work, it also runs a formidable education programme from its base in Geelong which is just outside of Melbourne.

Yet Bruce baulked at the idea of Back to Back being a ‘mainstream’ company and posed some challenging questions and presented interesting positions in the Disability Arts debate.

In the UK Disability Arts movement, we’ve always talked about the ghetto versus the mainstream in our discussions around strategies to increase our audience and open up opportunities for creative development. In talking about the mainstream, however, are we talking about work of quality which has integrity? Or are we talking about work that has a populist appeal? Or both?

Putting disabled performers into a traditional theatre context immediately brings with it the weight of the history of Disability Arts. Back to Back side-steps any associations of the past by using the dynamic between the actor and the architectural structure the performance sits within. They take place as their starting point. In this way, performance arenas are deliberately created or chosen so the theatrical context is itself changed.

In the large white void used in the Food Court, there is tension created by the neutrality of the space. It also gives the performance a sense of immediacy.

Bruce Gladwin’s ethos for this is underpinned by the fact that a disability theatre company performing a traditional piece of theatre - be it a farce or a tragedy - will always be seen within a disability context and be critiqued accordingly.

They may well be seen as ‘very good’ but they will never win in comparison to higher profile, longer running performance companies.

As an example of this, I remember a time in 1997 when Tottering Bipeds produced Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the same time as Sir Peter Hall's company took the play to the National Theatre. I saw both productions.

While there was a clinical professionalism to Ben Kingsley's performance as Estragon, Jamie Bedard brought an authenticity to that role which had never been explored on stage before. Bedard's Estragon truly could not tie his shoelaces.

Yet the weight of Sir Peter Hall's name meant that the disability performance was banned from going ahead in central London. As a result, the production didn’t receive the reviews it deserved beyond the disability press.

Back to Back’s work is about having the will to create something refreshing which draws on the performers’ unique physicality to convey their own and other people's stories.

A key component of their approach is also how to make work which challenges the performer but also contains a secure foundation to enable that person to approach theatre-making with confidence.

Bruce cited pushing a performer not used to working with dialogue to engage with it. He put this actor in control of the mechanisms for the creation of the piece. The performer was allowed to carry the boom mike. He could then choose which other performers he engaged with through dialogue.

Similarly, another performer not used to working with monologue was encouraged to step over that hurdle. I watched Theatre of Speed - Back to Back Theatre's community theatre company - in rehearsal and saw the performers working with each other's narratives. They had been asked to produce a piece of text about their lives which they then swapped.

One of the resulting texts caused frustration in one actor. When working with people with intellectual impairments the modus operandi is so often to put a blanket over conflict and to go along with what is more palatable. Here, while the performer was given a certain amount of empathy, she was encouraged to work with her emotions and use them as fuel for her performance.

The underlying approach at Back to Back stems from the idea that the truth is the best starting point for creating a compelling piece of theatre. That starting point is to delve deep to find out from the performers what they want to express. What stories they want to tell.

Art of Difference Festival

The work presented over two weeks at Art of Difference came from widely disparate places. Much of it was rooted within community arts practice such as Just Us Theatre, City of Voices, Rollercoaster, Dragon Breath & The Cloak. Much of it was very laudable and entertaining with artistic ideas clearly coming from the disabled performers.

Yet, with the emphasis on Art, rather than politics in Australia, many of the artists and companies who presented their work at the two-day Art of Difference Symposium and at the two cabaret nights - D-Lite Variety Showdown and the Block Party - were creating cutting-edge work exploring issues, and making work in innovative ways which would shake the Disability Arts scene in the UK.

One of the most powerful and original pieces of artwork shown as part of the Saturday night Block Party was by animator and documentary film maker, Alexandra Beesley. Revolving Door - a 17 minute piece of documentary animation which took a staggering 20 years to make, explores issues of discrimination, rarely, if ever, explored before.

The result of such labour is a film which is a resonant example of the ways in which animation can be used to challenge the limitations of photographic record.

Revolving Door tells Alex’s life story. It began with a film crew following her for six months while she plied trade on the streets of Melbourne. She then went on to animate an edited version comprising of over 17,000 hand-drawn frames.

Complex and challenging, the film has a beautiful, shimmering quality to it that takes the viewer into a brutal world of abuse from police and punters alike. It describes a unique vision of the trap created by that mix of poverty, drugs and childhood abuse - all from the viewpoint of a disabled sex worker discriminated against from working in legal brothels by virtue of disability.

In general there was a sense of freedom from the constraints of political sensibilities found at UK Disability Arts festivals. There was risk taking that would be frowned upon here. Described as, ‘Deliberately edgy, defiantly talented and deliciously seductive,’ there was a theme of sex and sensuality which ran through the Saturday night Block Party performances.

Caroline Conlon, actor, director, ex-Artistic Director Australian Theatre of the Deaf, began with a piece of stand-up exploring what it feels like to be represented by the voice of a sign language interpreter of the opposite sex.

Her dialogue with him took the relationship of Deaf performer and interpreter into new territory and set the scene for a variety of acts during the evening which centred on creating comedy by using the interpreter as fall guy.

Mr Kewl performed a hilarious monologue taken from a Mills and Boon novel. His persistent interaction with the interpreter pushed her to perform an ever more provocative and explicit portrayal of signed sexual acrobatics.

Atypical Theatre Company performed a scene from One more than One – a two-hander between a three foot high Caucasian woman and a six foot six Asian man who are meeting for the first time on a blind date. The premise was surreal and entertaining but also controversial, subverting notions of the freak show.

The piece used elements of movement and physical theatre to illustrate character development while the dialogue unraveled into a string of disablist and racist insults hurled between the two characters.

One more than One was cleverly written and daring in its ambition to make the incredible credible by imposing disability and race onto an ostensibly mundane piece of social interaction.

Opportunities were given for the three main international artists - Liz Carr, Tom Shakespeare and Christine Bruno - to create their own improvised mayhem with a variation on the ‘vegetable, vegetable or vegetable’ game which is the staple of the Ouch Podcast.

Great though this all was, it was notable that the cabaret was attended by an audience of mainly disabled people.

Liz Carr, Tom Shakespeare and Christine Bruno went on to perform monologues at the Sunday night variety showdown. They each took a wry stance, making humour out of disability experience.

Polished, entertaining and clever, each act was honed in a way that could have been presented in front of a disability or a mainstream audience.

I think for Liz Carr in particular, her experience of Melbourne was one that pushed her forward into making work outside her comfort zone. She got very good responses from the Melbourne audiences, both for her stand-up, her theatre and performances in the mainstream comedy circuit. I didn’t get to see her do her one woman show It hasn’t happened yet … but many said, it was a highlight of the festival.

One of the other major international showcases at the festival were Touch Compass. This is a highly rated professional integrated dance company from New Zealand. One of its key dancers, Suzanne Cowan, is well known in the UK having worked with Candoco Dance Company for many years. She performed in two duets, Bedrock and Groteschi. Both highly imaginative, darkly humorous and rewarding.

On a less glorious note, Harmonious Oddity, given top billing in the main evening performance over several nights was extremely disappointing. The dance piece contained elements of a relationship between a learning-disabled performer and a non-disabled performer. It came across as inauthentic – especially in comparison to some of the physical theatre being performed far more successfully by Back to Back exploring similar issues of sexuality and learning disability.

In Harmonious Oddity, a non-disabled dancer flirts with a learning disabled dancer. He warms to her, but it is clear from the outset that there is going to be no follow through. There is a tacit collusion with the general discrimination that a learning disabled man has no right to feelings of desire. He becomes further infantilised as the movement turns into flights of fancy about horse-play and mock gun battles. The main thing that upset me about the work was that the key performer Jesse Steele came across as charismatic and talented, but at no time did it feel like he was in the performance.

Art of Difference Symposium

The Art of Difference International Arts Symposium was a two-day conference providing a platform for people from national and international disability and Deaf communities to meet, exchange ideas and debate and explore artistic practice, methods, representation and identity.

Broken down into six sessions, some of the debates and presentations were inspiring and a showcase for ground-breaking ideas in terms of the kinds of discussions that the Disability Arts movement has held in the UK.

There was a strong contingent of Australian, US and UK disabled performers, performance artists and film-makers at the festival who presented some of the most powerful discussions.

The visual arts were perhaps less well represented in the symposium although addressed in detail and with great passion by UK academic and artist Tom Shakespeare in his keynote address entitled The Re-imagining of Disability: Different Art, Different Audiences, Different Artists.

The other keynote presentation, To Be or Not to Be: why disability arts must die!’, was given by New York actress, Christine Bruno.

I think it is fair to say that the sessions were variably engaging. The two weakest sessions were taken up with churning over the same old community arts battle ground: one looking at The Future of Arts and Disability and the other asking How do you make art that moves audiences?

The first session looked at disability representation, portrayal and cultural perception. Later sessions went on to focus more specifically on media representation and how to get work out of the ghetto and into wider platforms.

ABC broadcaster, writer and film-maker, Kath Duncan, who wowed audiences at the London Disability Film Festival 2001 with her epic documentary My One Legged Dream Lover, kicked off by talking about how Art comes from the challenge of engaging with our own psyches and differences as human beings.

The disability perspective provides a rich field of experience to explore which is why so many popular films from Boston Legal to Rainman to My Left Foot use and abuse disability.

Tom Shakespeare made the point that if we want to reach further and challenge the way people think about disability we have to reach further into our own psyches: ‘Disabled people with visible impairments are on stage all the time. We are used to being looked at and are experts at devising strategies to manage how we are seen.’ He went further to talk about how humour can be a liberating factor in challenging responses from non-disabled people.

Sarah Mainwaring from Back to Back works with the power of humour in her writing and performance. She introduced a clip from her piece Foreign Body. The film showed her delivering a monologue direct to camera, Alan Bennet-style. She used an apple and impeccable timing to deliver a very funny but highly political story about, ‘A bad girl called Eve.’

The bible story was a device to contextualise a piece of autobiographical writing. It gave Sarah the opportunity to talk candidly and with compelling humour about disability and gender politics.

Kath Duncan asked, ‘What compels the performance? Does it draw on own stories or from somewhere else?’

In response, Sarah Mainwaring reflected Back to Back’s intention to break down traditional conventions of theatre making in order that something of the unique voice and presence of the individual and collective performers can come to the fore in an engaging, dramatic manner.

She described her way of working: ‘I work with images of the body that evolve over a season into stories that I can work with. Once a story evolves, I can travel with those images and give them to the audience.’

The brilliant Emma J Hawkins - dancer, circus performe and director at Atypical Theatre, described herself as a very physical performer: ‘People have to get over my physicality and stop trying to dress me up in cotton wool.’

For Caroline Conlon, ex-Artistic Director Australian Theatre of the Deaf, developing skills within the performing arts was essential to finding different ways of getting her point across to the hearing world. She proposed that, ‘Performance is innate for Deaf people as sign is such an expressive language.’

The discussion throughout the Symposium was largely coming from looking at where we are and moving forward from there. This was a subtle difference in attitude in comparison with how a similar discussion would have gone, if the panel had been addressing a UK disability audience. Although unlike audiences at a UK disability arts event, of the 300 or so people there, at least 50 per cent were non-disabled stakeholders within the Disability Arts and Arts and Disability scene.

Generally, there was a sense of openness to the challenges working within the Arts presents. The prevailing attitude was to take misrepresentation and misunderstanding as something to be confronted. That most mainstream depiction of disability is controlled by non-disabled people was seen as a challenge as much as a barrier. The general consensus was that if the Art is good enough, it will get through.

From a variety of companies - Restless Theatre, No Strings Attached as well as Back to back - there was recognition that the aesthetic is driven by telling stories truthfully and honestly; giving audiences a different understanding of people's lives. There was ownership of the notion of being a ‘freak’, an ‘artist with difference’ or, as poet Sandy Jeffs described herself, ‘an insanity consultant’. While waving the ‘crip-badge’ was clearly seen as a form of empowerment, there was a strong sense that the only way forward was to move out of the disability ghetto and into the mainstream.

Liz Carr talked frankly about taking her work into the mainstream: ‘In the first 30 seconds on stage you have to address the fact that you are different to get over the challenge of facing the audience's attitudes towards disability. If I wanted accessible venues, I would only do two shows a year so I have had to compromise on access to get the work out there.

'I am not doing comedy as therapy. Insecurity and exhibitionism are the key qualities. Most of my comedy is about disability. Yes, I get resistance from bookers to take a comic whose work is about disability. But disabled people can be the scariest audiences.

'One of the problems is that there are so few representations of disability in the media. The expectation is that my comedy will reflect all disabled people's lives and I can’t do that. I can get negative responses from both sides of the fence. Whilst non-disabled bookers talk about there being so much more to me than being disabled, some disabled people take exception because I see the funny side to the disability experience.’

Christine Bruno said: '[There is a] paradox that exists within the media in that on the one hand they are looking for stories that are familiar, but on the other are looking for something original.

'When reviewers are looking at disability they back off. The language is often grossly inappropriate. I often call a reviewer and say, 'Thank you for reviewing this piece but can I send you a glossary of preferred terms?'

'I entered theatre training with a will to be an actor in spite of my disability. But as I’ve gone on, so I have had to embrace disability. As with a lot of coverage of disability, people are interested in my story because it’s not a story that has been told before.'

Visual and Performance Artist, Ruark Lewis, talked about the inter-disciplinary and radical nature of his work presenting problems for the mainstream press: 'In over 25 years, I have never received a newspaper review in Australia. I can get reviews everywhere else in the world but not here. So I don’t send notices to visual arts reviewers because it is a waste of time.'

Ruark presented a challenging piece of performance art which reminded me of Aaron Williamson’s approach. Our Lucky Country was a comment on racism specific to the Cranello riots which took place in December 2005. It was commissioned by Mop gallery.

He said that making the work was a cathartic affair as the riot took place where he grew up among his own community. The performance involved him slowly carrying a long wooden plank attached to his waist by a rope. Words on the plank read, 'I am from a wog background.' The other side of the plank read: 'Now people are scared.'

Film of the performance showed people shying away from the over statement he was making in his role as performance artist. Issues around disability and race are so entwined from many perspectives. It was the one piece of work at the festival that reflected how marginalized Aboriginal culture is.

At the same session about getting your work out of the ghetto, Jane Trengrove, mentor for the visual artists exhibiting at Art of Difference, talked about how uneducated most visual arts reviewers seem to be: 'It is incomprehensible how lacking in warmth and understanding of the human dimension to approaching work they are.'

She shared her experience of disability as sharpening her ability to observe. As in the work of UK artists like Noemi Lakmaier or Ben Cove, body image is a key theme within work she has curated and exhibited: 'Body Suits was an integrated show in which the brief was to create a piece of work in which the body is left out. It developed from the idea that the body is under gaze too much - that something more meaningful can be said through creating a reference to traces of the body.'

In response, journalist and writer, Philippa Hawker, from The Age, went on to talk about journalism from the hacks' side of the fence. She made the point that: 'Arts journalists are largely ignored by most of the other journalists. No-one knows who we are or where we sit. We are the weird ones most of the time.'

She went on to make the observation: 'It takes generational change for reviewers to shift their approach to writing about the work. For Back to Back people need to see the body of work as a whole to get an overview of what the company is about.'

Philippa’s point was backed up in an earlier conversation talking about critic Alison Crogan's description of Sarah Mainwaring's performance in Out on a Limb as, 'Not about conquering the body's limitations, but working with them.'

There was a sense that, as disability is pushing beyond the ghetto and out against the barriers, some realisation of the aesthetic underpinning disability arts is opening up.

All the talk of the importance of producing work for a wider audience led to an interesting discussion of what the mainstream is. Christine Edmonds, head of performing arts and former director of Melbourne Arts Festival, talked about the mainstream as, 'The upholder of convention – a place where specific formulas develop that follow a very limited number of models of practice.'

She went on to say: 'What I see more often is that the mainstream is not about the upholding of human imagination unless it can be turned into some form of commodity. As gatekeepers our role must be to try to open the landscape and prevent the aperture for work being made from becoming smaller.'

Conclusions

How do we forward the debates around disability arts on an international level? Definitions around disability and arts practice are changing in the UK and abroad from different starting points. We need to engage with how these changes are affecting professional practice within the disability realm.

The Symposium ended on a huge high. I very much enjoyed seeing Tom Shakespeare give his keynote speech. In fact, I saw him give his ‘talking bollocks for money’ (as his kids would have it) presentation twice since he was also one of the three key speakers at the Momentum09 event.

Having always identified him as an academic rather than a performer or artist in his own right, it was refreshing to hear his take on Art, on being an artist and on the ‘predicament’ that disability presents.

There was an openness and an engagement that I could listen to many times over and still find something new within it to think about.

He remains a controversial figure within the UK Disability Arts movement, upholding views which often contradict the established way of thinking about disability and the arts and presenting a reflective take on how we move things forward:

Tom Shakespeare began by talking about how the body and emotional aspects of living with disability are not talked about enough: 'It is unfashionable to think of disability as tragedy and rightly so. But I still want to reserve the right to think of disability as tragedy.

'We can think about disability in terms of oppression. But I don’t want to reduce disability to that. The relativist approach looks at disability as ‘difference’ and as such isn’t comfortable with embracing the more difficult aspects to living that disability presents.

'It doesn’t ruin your life and is not tragedy, but it is often a pain in the arse.'

He went on to talk about the different approaches to Arts provision: • The traditional approach – therapeutic and occupational which addresses the fact that we come into the world and leave the world as frail and dependant beings. And many of us deal with frailty and dependence through our lives. • The representational approach which uses disability as a metaphor and is essentially sentimental in the way it presents our lives. He quoted David Hevey’s summing up of the representational approach as ‘dustbins for disavowal’. • The radical approach which supports Disability Art as a transformative, confrontational and political approach to making Art. • The individual approach which talks about an artist who ‘happens to have a disability’ and sees diversity as the key agenda.

The question underlying these approaches is, what do disabled people need? We are more similar to non-disabled people than we are different. If we can convey that, then we can overcome barriers to understanding. We need to develop an insight that humanity is about vulnerability.

He went on to talk about existential art as a tool for thinking about disability, by anyone for anyone: 'Art can tell stories that can give the emotional impact of a predicament – and in so doing can create change.'

His examples of art that had made him think about the disability predicament ranged from non-disabled artists like Mona Hatoum Unitled (wheelchair) 1998 and Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant to the drawings of Christine Borland of a boy with muscular dystrophy.

Other examples were Aidan Shingler’s The Butterfly Collector and his own reproductions of historical art images which illustrate the disability predicament, notably The Wrong Birth (after Fuseli) 2007, which rationalizes some of the feelings the media presents about the birth of a disabled infant, and The Good Death (after Mantegna), which talks about some of the religious attitudes towards disability.

A fundamental conclusion I came away with from Art of Difference was the need to have more serious discussion within the Disability Arts movement about how and where we position ourselves in terms of identity. More importantly though this stance needs to look at our work in terms of how we see what we produce in relation to the history of Art and the place of disability within that history.

Disability has always been present but has remained virtually invisible up until 20 years ago.

It is now only with serious consideration of how practice and artistic production relates in a historical sense that we will come to be able to evaluate that work we create as disabled and deaf artists in a more professional critical way. In so doing, this then inform mainstream criticism.

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