Leeds’ Beyond Festival: Re-presenting the city

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Seeking to show their city in new ways, with confident exhibitions presented in Leeds’ Beyond Festival, learning disabled artists showed their work across the city between 5 July – 22 July 2018. Review by Gill Crawshaw

Photo of two pints of beer and beer mats with the artists' slogan

Moan Mats by Stephen Harvey

At one of the exhibitions in the Beyond festival, I overheard other visitors likening Stephen Harvey and Julie Shackleton’s Moan Mats to Bob and Roberta Smith’s work. It’s a fair comparison: effective use of slogans and bright colours mean the work is eye-catching and provocative.

The Moan Mats, beer mats, tea towels, posters and T shirts, that Harvey and Shackleton have collaborated on, carry messages about Harvey’s life to a wider audience. At their best, they are direct and powerful:

“I am not allowed to see the end of the film in the cinema, because my support worker has to finish the shift on time. I don’t get to see the end of the film.”

I wouldn’t describe this as moaning, I’d call it a valid expression of anger and frustration at an inflexible and disabling system. And while this project is site-specific, with beer mats and posters in Harvey’s local pubs and other venues, it has a much wider significance.

I’d love to see this project developed further, perhaps by directing Harvey’s messages at those parts of the system that could bring about change.

A photo of artworks on t-shirts and placards strung up across an installation space

Moan Mats by Stephen Harvey

Beyond is a festival of learning disability and the arts in Leeds, organised by a partnership of local arts organisations. The focus has shifted in this second festival to highlight the work and voices of individual artists, sometimes working in collaboration with others. To my mind this makes the festival stronger.

The artists’ reflections on life in Leeds are defining the festival, giving a clear identity and sense of place. Howard Haigh, for example, creates ceramic sculptures of local buildings in his Model City. I loved his rendition of the Henry Moore sculpture outside Leeds Art Gallery.

Image of a sculpture of a framed sausage bap

The Sausage Atlas by Andrew Towse and Anne-Marie Atkinson

Andrew Towse and Anne-Marie Atkinson are part of a tradition of artists finding inspiration in everyday objects. Their Sausage Atlas is based on Towse’s long term photographic project and maps some of the best sausage sandwiches to be found in the city.

The images are presented beautifully in sculptural frames. Placed prominently around the city, accompanied by a printed trail for people to follow, they are proving popular, engaging a wide audience.

Visiting a number of the exhibitions in the festival, collaboration continues to be a key theme. Learning disabled artists are working in pairs or groups with other artists, disabled and non-disabled, to great effect.

Views From the Bridge was a collaborative exhibition by members and staff at The Bridge centre in south Leeds, working with artist Alan Pergusey. There’s a glorious fusion of styles in the work that reflects everyone involved.

Photo of a display of gallery art

Views from the Bridge by The Bridge and Alan Pergusey

The exhibitions highlighted here are a mere selection of what was on offer in the Beyond festival, which also included performing arts and live music.

A symposium towards the end of the festival brought everyone involved together to talk about how things can be made even better for learning disabled artists in Leeds – and Beyond.

Around 30 events and exhibitions took place throughout July as part of BEYOND, featuring visual art, film, dance, theatre and more. For more information go to http://beyondarts.co.uk/