Image Credit Ceridwen Powell: Time for a New Paradigm 2015 mixed media
On March 12th 2015 at the Awkward Bastards symposium organised by DASH at the MAC, Birmingham, I acquired a label saying that I am one, so I guess I must be.
It’s not the only label I’ve ever had, my journey through the psychiatric system has been a parade of many different labels, currently I have one saying I’m a schizo. Physically, I have a photo ID card in my purse that labels me a cripple. So am I a mad cripple? I often say so myself with more than a little hint of sarcasm, but am I not just a person? One who faces barriers not faced by the majority, and as a result who experiences exclusion and discrimination. But in terms of diversity, shouldn’t we be in a post-activist society now, where organisations like DASH don’t need to use emotive titles like ’Awkward Bastards’ to sell tickets to events?
Sadly, it seems we haven’t advanced that far. The speakers at the symposium outlined their own long experiences of diversity activism, some having been fighting the good fight for over 30 years, but it did seem that we (the minorities) have been saying the same things to the same people for a very long time, but still we are not being truly heard. Yes, there has been legislation and a string of QUANGOs and committees and round after round of project funding, but we seem to have made little real progress, apart from a greater sensitivity to the use of language (in public, at least), and policies that talk the talk but no-one is walking the walk. I wondered whether this has been deliberate, short-term funding and short-lived diversity rights organisations that have the rug pulled from under their feet whenever they start to make a difference. Setting minority groups in competition against each other for limited pots of money, divide and conquer. And in the current financial climate, how can we make meaningful progress when so many individuals and organisations are facing cuts and struggling to stay afloat? Who has the time, energy and hope to be able to fight any more?
After the various speakers had told us their story, there was a lively discussion, a key question was asked by many, am I a (insert minority group as appropriate) artist, or just an artist? The room appeared to be divided about this, but I was thinking about myself and have come to the conclusion that I am a disabled and disability artist, in that I face additional barriers imposed by society to being a practising artist (hence ‘disabled’), and much of my work explores these barriers, my own and those of other people (hence ‘disability’).
My work also explores social and environmental issues, and I would have no qualms about describing myself as an ‘environmental artist’, so why should I feel anything other than proud about being a ‘disability artist’? Do I run the risk of ghettoising myself with this epithet? But I feel very strongly that ‘disability artist’ aligns me with a political identity that is still, and increasingly, oppressed, and I must speak out against this and challenge it and ask difficult questions, and try to be a voice for the voiceless.
And so yes, we do still need emotive titles, and I will wear my ‘Awkward Bastards’ label with pride.