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> > > Djamu: Cornwall Festival of Disability Arts

Graham Lewis reviews the Disability Arts festival organised by Equata, the south-west Disability Arts development agency

A woman in a wheelchair and a man face the camera, arms outstretched. They are positioned in front of a stage curtain.

Simon Startin and Mandy Colleran star in Fittings Multimedia's Welcome to the Institute

Djamu means “I am here” in the language of the Yura/Eora people, who traditionally inhabited Sydney, Australia - and we were! Equata’s co-chair Ann Pointon and Acorn Arts Centre’s Toni Kirk launched Cornwall’s first Disability Arts fest to an eager crowd in October 2007 at The Acorn Arts Centre, Penzance.

Madam Friendly (Leigh Stirling) and the Friendlies headlined the night with jazzy Welcome to the Institute songs, sandwiched between two slices of Velcro Dance. Hot as toast! Specially choreographed by the five dancers, three of whom are physically disabled, I Am Here! romanced Amal Ahmed’s prosthetic legs. This stretched the troupe more than their first inclusion, which came from an non-disabled designer.

Empowerment and inclusion are mighty components within Disability Arts. Velcro led a popular workshop the next day; as did Oska Bright later in the fortnight, after four gruelling sessions of films from learning disabled artists. Djamu was becoming a success.

In Fittings Multimedia’s "Welcome To The Institute" Mandy Colleran dominated as manipulative Lydia. Intentionally sacrificing Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, accompanying it with a lump of wood being bashed against her wheelchair, then threatening Oh Susannah! with a metal spoon in a tin box, proved too much for one guy, surprising the audience with a loud “No-o-o!”

Steve Day presented a dilemma. He’s very funny and Deafy’s Island Discs sold out at Edinburgh Fringe, but Penzance’s Deaf complement (who couldn’t comprehend music) felt he’d sold out. The jury’s still out on whether disabled artists should target our own or act as ‘we can too’ emissaries.

Kazzum's The Boy Who Grew Flowers was wonderful escapism, where Rink Bowagon (Maxwell Hook) sprouted chrysanthemums every full moon and Angelina Quiz (Jennifer-Jay Ellison) had one leg longer than the other. Infantile humour kept 90 reception-class pupils amused and introduced some to disability.

What the world did yesterday, Cornwall does ‘dreckly’. Djamu wasn’t the best-ever festival, but it will be built on. I’m looking forward to next time!