The Incorrigibles is a new book produced by DASH which features artwork by, and interviews with, 14 prominent disabled artists, plus essays by way of introduction. The Incorrigibles emerged out of conversations that took place after DASH’s Awkward Bastards conference at the mac in Birmingham in March 2015. Review by Colin Hambrook.
DASH’s lush tabletop publication is a welcome addition to the library of books recording a history of the achievements of the Disability Arts Movement. For artists new and old to disability arts, and for academics and laypeople alike the overview given by fourteen selected artists provides an effective insight into the journeys traveled and the support given, (or not) by the disability sector.
At a time when Disability Arts has forged ahead as force to be reckoned with in the performing arts; it is also, perhaps at a juncture in opening up more support and respect within the visual arts. Certainly, The Incorrigibles pays testament to the resilience of visual artists beavering away against the tide.
The art, the stories, the discussion within the book lays ground for the place of Disability Arts within the canon of art history. Art made on the margins, outside of the bastions of privilege is where the most powerful and rewarding perspectives have always been found – and will always continue to be found. Art and struggle are synonymous in many ways – certainly art that is passionate and relevant and which reflects lived experience.
Jon Adams puts it very eloquently in saying:
“I think differently, I’m wired differently, I view the world differently, I’m bound to see things that other people can’t. I may be the one in 100 that solves a problem because they’re all out front looking at the obvious and I’m tinkering in the back.”
The format of the book gives the artists space to tell their stories; the paths they found to make work and to find an audience for it. Disability Arts is not a term that everyone represented here necessarily adheres to, and nor should it be. There is an honesty and openness and the drive embedded within the artists’ testimonies is an animated shout to artists working on the margins to keep going and to push for opportunities to make the work you want to make, seek the advice you need to make it and to have your voice heard.
Fourteen artists are represented with images of their work and responses to a set of questions about how they became an artist, what barriers they faced and how they measure those barriers now. They talk about what being part of a ’Disability Arts’ or a ‘Mainstream Arts’ context means for them. How they would define themselves and what advice they would give to encourage other artists working against barriers to inclusion of their artwork.
And so, The Incorrigibles is both a testament to the resilience of artists making work in the face of disabling obstacles and the commitment of artists dedicated to making work about the experience of disability.
For Nancy Willis the impetus behind making artwork was “to create new images of disability as a true expression of the lives we were living,” that countered tragic, brave and twisted representation prevalent within the visual arts mainstream.
Sue Austin describes the process she went through as one of creating “new narratives to understand my changed embodiment and reclaim my identity.”
David Hevey talks about being motivated by a sense of injustice: “I felt that the way outsiders were portrayed was wrong – and set out to do something about it…” Çağlar Kimyoncu echoes the thoughts of several of the artists here when he says: “I believe that you are born an artist, not inspired to become one,” expressing some of the ambivalence that some of the artists represented here feel towards being part of ‘a movement’.
Jon Adams always knew he was an artist but overcoming peoples’ attitudes towards him has always been a complicated process. He talks about the value that being part of a ‘tribe’ can confer but acknowledges that Disability Arts is not a label that suits everyone… “but whatever you do, make, create, do what you feel in your heart you should be doing, not what other people tell you, you should.”
The Incorrigibles charts a course through a selective history of the movement. In his foreword Craig Ashley cites ‘awkwardness’ as an idea that underpins identity politics and particularly the concept of ‘disability’ as a social construct. We swim up-river in contra-distinction to the understanding that ‘disability’ has nothing to do with ‘what’s wrong with you?’ but which reflects when and how people are excluded from society. The essays here name those barriers and the paths the artists have found in traversing them.
Much of the artwork represented here sits alongside the essays as a celebration not only of the artists’ formidable tenacity but of disabled people as a community. Tony Heaton’s Monument to the Unintended Performer, commissioned by Channel 4 in the run up to the 2012 Paralympic Games, was a tribute to everyone, who by virtue of being different becomes a ‘performer’ owing to how we ‘present’ as individuals who don’t fit accepted norms whenever we enter the public realm.
Incorrigible is a word that’s been bandied around for a while as synonymous with the bloody-mindedness of disabled artists. At several DAO board meetings with Tony Heaton we debated the idea of The Incorrigibles and The Unfundables as titles for spoof marketing campaigns, sick and tired as we are of the emergence of the Charity Model, which feeds off the trope of disabled people as victims.
So, it seems fitting that DASH have alighted on this apposite definition of disabled artists as ‘incorrigible’, unreformed artists who carry on being a thorn in the side, no-matter what is put in their way to close down the conversation about what kind of society we want to live in. Long live the incorrigibles.
Artists featured: Bobby Baker, Çağlar Kimyoncu, Cameron Morgan, Christine Sun Kim, David Hevey, Jon Adams, Juan delGado, Nancy Willis, Noëmi Lakmaier, Rachel Gadsden, sean burn, Simon Mckeown, Susan Austin and Tanya Raabe-Webber.
Essays by: Amanda Cachia, Tony Heaton and Craig Ashley.
Beyond the Frame symposium – 23rd November – Wales Millennium Centre, book on sale from 1pm
Artsadmin – 6th December – Toynbee Studios, time TBC, possibly 6-7.30pm
mac birmingham – 8th December – mac birmingham, time and date tbc
Books will cost £10 at the launches and this price (+£2.50 p&p) is also available by pre-ordering from here
Offer closes on 14th November 2016 – normal retail price is £12.99 + £2.50 p&p