Disability Arts Online announces new artist-led programme for ethnically diverse disabled creatives

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Disability Arts Online is delighted to launch the Onyx Pilot Project, which delivers a vital package of timely support and work for and led by ethnically diverse disabled creatives and freelancers. 

Colourful painting of a group of people dancing and celebrating

Ashokkumar Mistry

The Onyx Pilot Project is a Disability Arts Online (DAO) project, funded by Arts Council England.

Through three related strands of activity delivered between May 2021 and April 2022, the project puts ethnically diverse, disabled artists and creatives in the driving seat. 

STRAND 1: The Onyx Collective, a group of 10 artists who share the lived experience of disability and racism, will be nurtured and resourced to: create new work that results in a publication, leading on selection and commissioning; instigate its own programmes; and be a critical friend to DAO and critique the wider sector. 

The artists are: Priya Mistry, Debs Williams, Ashokkumar Mistry, Miss Jacqui, Alexandrina Hemsley, Kuli Kohli, Ngozi Ugochukwu, Omikemi, Nila Gupta, and Dolly Sen.

STRAND 2: DAO will employ two ethnically diverse mentors to deliver one-to-one artist development sessions that are more relevant to a diverse range of artists. 

STRAND 3: The Onyx Collective will commission 10 artists to deliver 12 accessible artist presentations – to energise the sector with creative, reflective, informative and critical digital content for audiences across multiple regions of England.

Trish Wheatley, Director, Disability Arts Online, said: 

“This grows out of our Covid-19 response and urgent anti-racism activity… The Onyx Pilot Project makes a firm commitment to employing freelancers, initiating care-driven, sustainable working practices. It will help to embed anti-racism into DAO and challenge intersectional discrimination in the wider sector.”

Alexandrina Hemsley, Onyx Collective member, said: 

“I am excited to be part of this wonderful group of artists and creative practitioners working and learning together, across so many different disciplines. I am looking forward to holding different spaces in our industry and advocating for racial equity through our practices and the practices of other disabled artists with lived experiences of racism.”

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Artist Biographies

Alexandrina Hemsley’s practice is shaped by the morphing disciplines of dance, mentoring, creative and critical writing. They work with intricate improvisation scores and vivid performance environments which insist on conjuring embodied enquiries into a multiplicity of voices. This includes work within organisations around anti-racism, anti-ableism and embodied advocacy. It is a life long, nuanced undertaking. Alexandrina is Associate Artist at Cambridge Junction, Board Member of Chisenhale Dance Space and International Associate Artist 2020/21 at Dance Ireland. 

Ashokkumar Mistry is a multidisciplinary artist, writer and curator working in the UK and internationally. By subverting technologies, he challenges conventional ways of making and viewing art. “As a person who sees and experiences the world differently, Much of my work is concerned with my interactions with the world and how I make sense of everything”. He is currently Associate Artist with Disability Arts Online, a Development Artist with The Spark Arts and a Fellow of the International Association Of Art Critics (AICA-UK). Ashokkumar has been commissioned by the BBC and a number of galleries such as the Lowry and Southbank Centre to create artworks and exhibitions. As a curator, he has worked with AIS for a number of years developing innovative and thought provoking exhibitions. Ashokkumar has also developed a number of exhibitions in Taiwan for National Cheng Kung University and A-Glow space. 

Debs Williams works across multiple artforms. With over 3 decades of experience. From the early days of Graeae to the inception of the disability film festival and founder of a production company where she was able to operate at the highest level as artist and producer. Debs has a long relationship with DAO as a reviewer, critical friend and contributor. Debs’s work tells stories that are not traditional or seen in the disability or mainstream worlds of creativity. 

Dolly Sen is an award-winning writer, artist, performer and filmmaker. She has had 10 books published. Her subversive blogs around art, disability and humour have a huge international following. Since 2004 she has exhibited and performed internationally. More recently she has been working on her Section 136 project. Section 136 is a radical mental health art-action programme where madness is questioned, and institutional monsters are confronted using art, love, rage and sheep. 

Kuli Kohli runs a Punjabi Women’s Writing Group. Kuli is a published poet and has performed around the West Midlands, London, Liverpool, Oswestry and via Skype to India. Kuli was a guest lecturer at Humboldt University in Berlin. Last year, she performed at the British Museum for #PurpleLightUp celebrating International Disabled Persons Day. In 2020, Kuli’s life story was featured on BBC News online leading to being featured on BBC One’s Sunday Morning Live show. 

Miss Jacqui is a spoken word artist, songwriter and facilitator who always tries to challenge societal perceptions, like what it actually means to be a black woman with a disability. Miss Jacqui has worked with Halfmoon Young People’s Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, National Youth Theatre and Roundhouse, just to name a few. She has performed at various locations including the 2012 Paralympic Team Welcoming Ceremonies, Southbank Centre, and Roundhouse. 

Ngozi Ugochukwu is a self-taught photographer. She has had her work shown at HOME a centre for international contemporary art in Manchester. As part of a British Council conference in Hong Kong looking at the arts and its importance for, and impact on three groups: old, young, and disabled people. Her Stairs Project explored the beauty behind this overlooked architectural feature from the unique perspective of her wheelchair. Ngozi’s current project on scars, their meaning and affect on us was commissioned by DaDaFest International, under the theme of Translations 2020. 

Nila Gupta is an artist, writer and cultural critic, specialising in race, class, gender, disability and performance. They are a working-class British Bengali genderf*cker, bi and trans person of colour, and have multiple complex disabilities. They are also a full-time claimant of disability benefits in the UK, and a survivor. 

Omikemi is a writer, community organizer and body worker. They’re currently working as writer for disability art organizations, Vital Xposure and as a commissioned guest editor at Disability Arts Online. Omikemi is also the founder of Way Making an online Black-centered healing and restorative space.  Vol. 6 No. 1 (2021): how to think | Performance Philosophy / Dreaming Bodies with Omikemi – Artes Mundi / some kind of light – a map – Disability Arts Online

whatsthebigmistry/ Priya Mistry is a multidisciplinary artist, socially engaged practitioner and creative producer straddling visual, performance and live art. Mistry’s practice adds to discourse on topics of mental health/neurodiversity, feminist politics, identity, sex and queerness, whilst deconstructing language, exploring sensory/non-word based vocabularies. Priya is Associate Artist with In Good Company consortium, New Art Exchange, Artist Member at East Side Projects and Chisenhale Dance Space and Quarter Master for Artistic Mutiny. She’s a collaborator with artist Bobby Baker at Daily Life Limited- (Mental Dis/ability Arts Organisation) including work with William Morris Gallery and Diagnosing Diagnosis Symposium with The Wellcome Collection.