A Day in the Life of an Artist: Dolly Sen

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Continuing our series looking at the day-to-day working practices of disabled artists. In this film, artist, activist and troublemaker Dolly Sen shows us her art practise including current projects like her dollhouse DWP assessment centre.

Dolly’s website.

Follow Dolly on Twitter: @DollyDollySen

Transcript of the video

Dolly: We are living in a world where a breath can kill us. And the government wants us to be a herd. Are we human or are we sheep?

Title: Day in the Life of Dolly Sen

Alison: Why have you got a berry on your head?

Dolly: Well, I am an artist and I can’t afford a beret.

New scene

Dolly This is my office, it is a bit chaotic. But I will do a 360 wotsit as a lot of online art galleries are prone to do. Here we go…

Actually, let’s stop here for a second. There are more books, including books I have written, and books I am part of an anthology of.

Let’s carry on looking at some of my art. This is a pillbox called ‘Dignity’ that I did. Another copy of this is at the Wellcome’s permanent exhibition ‘Being Human’. It’s basically wanting dignity in healthcare, which even though this Covid-19 pandemic is a bigger issue than ever. How many disabled people will get the dignity and rights of their life in healthcare?

The other work that’s in the Wellcome is a copy of this ‘Help the Normals’ charity collecting can, which I created as response to the idea that disabled people should be pitied. NO, I think normal people ought to be pitied.

Let me start again. Here is a 360 rotation of my office. My office, yes, is very chaotic, very messy. But that’s my mind, I’m afraid. Let’s do another turn… I’m starting to get dizzy… getting even dizzier… WOOOAH!

New scene

Alison: So Dolly, tell me about your art?

Dolly: Well, my work explores the relationship between multiculturalism and counter-terrorism, with influences as diverse as Blake and Homer Simpson. New variations are distilled from complex and simple discourses. Oh, why am I doing this? I am just reading from some arty bollocks webpage. Basically, my art to me: I make art to make trouble because we don’t live in a perfect world.

New scene

Dolly: So one of the projects I am doing at the moment is editing a video for a school. It was a collaboration between some year 5s, myself and someone else. We are doing a kind of animation. I do like filmmaking but sometimes it is very detail-orientated. I’m more of a bigger picture person. To the point you can get engrossed, it gets a bit nit-picky to get everything right. To the point, I’m a bit stressed now. Actually I need a bit of a wank to de-stress myself. Where’s my wanking hat? Oh, there it is.

Dolly:  Right, I am just going to go and de-stress myself. You don’t have to have to follow me.

New scene (Dolly snoring)

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Dolly to Scamp: What’s this current performance you’re doing? Is it called ‘Beg’? That’s good eating there… What are you trying to say about ‘beg’?  That we shouldn’t have to just to eat.

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Another one of my projects which has halted due to the coronavirus… Debenhams was closing and were selling their fixtures and fittings so I bought this guy (a mannequin). People thought I was bit of a perve, but I have a good reason. I am interested in people’s experiences of emotional neglect and abuse. I am going to get a t-shirt for him saying something like: ‘Emotional Abuse Ruins Lives’ or something along those lines. I am going to get people to tell me phrases they remember from childhood that they carry into life. A few I’ve got from people I already know who are local to me: “One day you’ll do something right” “You should fuck off and die” “Boys don’t cry” “Loser” :”Ugly”. So if you’ve got any phrases you would like to see on this dummy, let me know.

New scene

We are in my office and this is one of my current projects. I’m building a dollhouse version of a DWP assessment centre. So here we have, I call her Anna, she’s got one leg, COPD and bipolar. She’s in a manic phase as you can see. Here is a witch of an assessor. I’m just getting it ready. The idea is to do a kind of satirical children’s toy commercial so once lockdown is over I will get one of my neighbour’s kids to play with an assessment centre dollhouse and foodbank dollhouse because that’s the reality of a lot of children’s experiences these days. The bit I’m doing are these health and safety posters that you see, they are kind of ubiq… ubiquit… ubi… they are kind of common in officious places. I’ve just put double-sided sticky plastic on them. Just going to take it off and stick it to the walls, and then it will be almost done.

The DWP assessment for disabled people is an evil thing. It has contributed to the early deaths and sucides of 1000s of people. Making a child play through the process will hopefully show what an obscene thing it is.

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When I went to the hospital I was given a booklet by Arthritis UK for my arthritis. One was a booklet on how to ease pain, but the other booklet was sex positions for people with arthritis. Unfortunately it was for straight couples only. So I’ve decided to draw my own. Sex positions for older arthritic ladies. I don’t want to call it the Karma Sutra. I’ll find another name for it. One of the drawings I’m doing is called ‘The Avalanche’. Your boobs get more elastic as you get older. This poor lady has it in her face. She says the words ‘I can’t breathe’. I’m just finishing off bits of it.

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So that’s me – a day in the life of Dolly Sen, artist. Nice to speak to you and maybe I’ll see you again. I’m going to be a bit busy for the rest of the day.