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Tanya Raabe's Blog - disability arts online
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Disability Arts Online

Tanya Raabe writes about the Tate Modern sitting with Sophie Morgan, as part of her project 'Revealing Culture: Head On' / 1 February 2010

A woman in a wheelchair poses for an artist; there's a drawing of her in graphite on the wall to the right of the photo.

Sophie Morgan poses, with a drawing of her in graphite on the wall. Photo © Tanya Raabe

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Well, the event of drawing Sophie Morgan in Tate Modern was certainly an experience never to be forgotten. I was a little nervous to begin with, at the thought of the public watching me creating my drawings in graphite and acrylic paint. As I strained to reach the top of my drawing board with my paintbrush and ink dropper, the audience were mesmerised.

People joined me in drawing this spectacle. The day before I was wandering round the galleries researching artworks that depict disability in some way or other...I picked on 'The Pigeon Chested Man', a painting of a disabled man who was a performer in a circus in 1929. Many people didn't know that this is how many disabled people made their living and were in fact proud to do so...not such a strange, out-of-date phenomena.

My parents met in the circus in the 1960's. My mother was a trained ballet dancer who played a clown and my father was an animal trainer. Has anyone seen the 'Last American Freak Show?' This film is about aspects of disability culture, which are hidden and unspoken about. The public were fascinated - if not a little shocked by these facts.

So creating a spectacle-like event, painting a portrait of a disabled person by a disabled artist, I started to question: was I inviting people to stare? They were watching with intent to have a go themselves. One onlooker was interested by the way that I didn't map out the whole body but started with the inner parts, the nose, the eyes then worked outwardly.

Sophie was an interesting model and is very much a disability campaigner...The IMPERFECT campaign has been launched to challenge perceptions of disability. And Sophie would like to be more involved in disability arts. Let's welcome her.

See me on BBC Ouch!

One of my sitters - Dr Sonali Shah - has pulled out. So I'm looking for another disability cultural figure. If you have any ideas please email me at tanyaraabe@ic24.net The sitter should be disabled, and have influenced disability culture today, yesterday, or be new on the block, but not an artist.

Was Matisse a disabled Artist?

See y'all next time.

Keywords: circus,disability art,disability professionals,visual art