I am writing this blog on “International Day of Disability”, an appropriate day perhaps as I was the recipient of the National Diversity Awards 2013 – Positive Role Model for Disability.
Disability has been part of my identity since birth, and so it has, to some extent, defined who I am. Through my work as a professional artist I consider fragility, survival and hope as key themes. At the core of my practice are concerns as to how humankind comes to terms with mortality: by unearthing the unseen, making the invisible visible. Part of that process is about being open about impairment, and working to empower others to find a voice with which to challenge stigma. Ultimately my artistic work is underpinned by themes of fragility and resilience, a shared and positive sense of survival in the face of chronic health conditions, and the politics and mythologies surrounding disability.
A syringe driver medicates me minute by minute to facilitate breathing. Six years ago I was diagnosed with retinoschisis; and consequently am now losing my sight.
Initially confounded by the impact sight loss might have on my visual artistic practice, I became conscious of two things:
1) Within reason, visual artistic expression need not necessarily be adversely affected by visual impairment; and 2) that this same limitation can indeed also serve to enhance the breadth of artistic vision.
I am lucky that the creative world embraces individuality and whereas I may have struggled to survive in another profession I have been able to address both the strengths and weaknesses of the human condition openly through my work and with some affect too.
I feel extremely lucky that my artistic practice has meant that I have had extraordinary National and International experiences, including the role of artist for Historic Royal Palaces at Hampton Court Palace, as an artist at Parliament, as a commissioned artist for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and recently representing UK for Qatar – UK Year of Culture 2013 and the first ever “Art and Disability Festival” in the Middle East, where I presented a solo exhibition entitled “This Breathing World”. HRH Prince Charles and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall formally opened the exhibition, which meant that the World Press embraced the context of this important subject. Through the support of Arts Council England, British Council, The National Lottery, The Speaker’s Art Fund and countless others, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with many vulnerable individuals around the World, who through creativity, have had the opportunity to be expressive.
I am often asked why I embrace and champion disability issues through my artistic work when my own disabilities are, by all accounts, invisible? The single answer is that every individual has a right to be part of and to be heard within our society, and so until this happens I continue to embrace issues relating to disability, in the hope that my voice will move us towards a time when all vulnerable individuals will have the opportunity to be heard.
Winning the National Diversity Award this year was a significant moment; I was thrilled to stand alongside two extraordinary disabled people, Simon Green and Rachael Johnson, who are tirelessly also using their individual experiences to highlight disability issues with the shared goal of making sure that every individual not only has equal opportunities but that they can fulfill their potential and contribute to our society.
So on International Day of Disability I have one hope, which is that from this point on every Disabled individual around the globe has the support and opportunity to play an equal part in our society.
It is a small hope but it will take each and every one of us to make sure this does happen.
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