What is Disability Art?

What is Disability Art?

The development of disability arts began in the 1970s / 80s as a result of the new political activism of the disabled peoples’ movement. Previously, most art about disability was made by non-disabled people. When disabled people began using the arts to reflect their own experiences, this provided a very different perspective.

Disability art is always made by disabled people, either professional or amateur. Disability art can not ever be made or led by non-disabled people.

Disability art reflects disabled peoples experiences, or disability culture. This may be quite obvious, as in a self portrait or autobiography, or the issues may be more complex.

Disability art in the 21st Century is less overtly political than in the early days, but it usually seeks to make change, or to bring a particular perspective to an issue.

Initially, disability art was produced by disabled artists for other disabled people. It was a way of communicating and recognising shared experiences. Now, disability arts practitioners are making their way into the mainstream, and may attract quite a diverse audience.

Pride the Opera

Andria Doherty and Laura Morgan in Pride, the Opera at Disability Pride 2010

Is all art by disabled people ‘disability art’?

No. A disabled artist painting a landscape is not necessarily producing disability art. The artist may simply want to paint that landscape, though their work may well be informed by the experience of disability.

What about ‘arts and disability’? Is that the same thing?

The term ‘arts and disability’ is used to describe arts projects specially set up for disabled people, but usually led by non-disabled people. Arts and disability work may be found in the community, or in residential homes, special schools or day-care centres. Arts and disability does not seek to reflect the experiences of disabled people’s lives in the same way that disability arts does.

Inclusive Dance at Galeri

Prometheus Dance, an integrated group led by Dawns i Bawb, 2011

What does disability art have to do with arts in health?

They are quite different. Arts in health may be a work of art in a health setting such as a surgery, clinic or hospital. It may be a project taken into a hospice or residential home, or a project in the community with specific aims related to health issues. Arts and health may involve disabled people and / or non-disabled people. Even if disabled people are involved, arts and health is not disability arts, or arts and disability.

Where does ‘inclusive arts’ fit in?

Much work is being done to make the arts more accessible to a wider range of participants. An arts event that is accessible to disabled people and non-disabled people is simply ‘accessible’ or ‘inclusive’. All arts, whether mainstream, disability arts, arts and disability or arts and health should be accessible and inclusive.

Rise and Shine Drama group audience

Audience, Rise & Shine, Caernarfon

Further reading:

Face On

Disability Arts in Ireland and Beyond by Ed. Kaite O’Reilly (compares growth of disability arts in Ireland and Wales) published by Arts and Disability Ireland ISBN 9780955474903. Contact: Katrina Goldstone at Create, Tel: 01-4736600, E-mail: communications@create-ireland.ie

Face On book cover

The ADI website has extracts from the book, including Wales, the story So far by DAC director Maggie Hampton http://www.adiarts.ie/

Chronology of Disability Arts by Allan Sutherland.

Download this from the Leeds Disability Studies Website

Effecting Change; Disability Culture and Art? A paper by Colin Barnes, Professor of Disability Studies, University of Leeds.

Download this from the Leeds Disability Studies Website 

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