Not Going Anywhere – an online disability arts exhibition giving prominence to artists from Yorkshire


Disabled artists and curators continue to share their work through online exhibitions. Gill Crawshaw picks out some highlights from a show with its heart in Yorkshire.

A section of a self propelled wheelchair is shown with small plastic soldiers scattered around it on the ground. The words 'Not Going Anywhere' are superimposed over the image in a strong pink colour.

Logo of Not Going Anywhere Exhibition 2021

Not Going Anywhere is an exhibition curated by Alfie Fox and Stephen Hopkins, disabled artists based in York. They asked artists to respond to several broad themes: disabled people’s lived experience, including experiences of lockdown, accessibility, and the social model of disability – with a Yorkshire focus.

The result is a varied collection of work that covers disability art and politics as well as community arts, and puts carers’ viewpoints alongside disabled people’s experiences. The curators say this is an exhibition for everyone, so I hoped to find some interesting art.

What is your definition of disability? comes from a simple concept. Artists Nicole Murmann and Vickie Orton planted themselves and their handmade sign in the middle of a busy pedestrian shopping street in Leeds so they could ask passersby how they define disability. Their audio recordings, while not necessarily surprising, show a range of responses. These suggest that a widespread understanding of disability as being constructed by society is a long way off! The first voice is a disabled person who is very familiar with the social model of disability. This is followed by people who have perhaps not given disability so much thought.

A back-lit image of a wheelchair facing towards the camera with letters printed on orange bordered card are arranged to read 'DO YOU SEE ME'

Do You See Me? : Not Going Anywhere Exhibition 2021

There is a lot to unpack in this work, which the artists say ‘explores … the trust and safe space between you and me, the bond and boundaries created in relationships and conversations.’ I admire their skill – and their nerve – in creating a safe space, where people’s differing opinions (that will not necessarily be shared by readers of DAO) are listened to and respected.

Alfie Fox draws on his own experience as a young disabled person and his artwork often addresses disability and access issues. He has used his curator’s privilege to show four of his own collages, which combine photographic and digital elements. This is a sound decision, as Fox’s uncompromising, unapologetic work makes this exhibition more powerful and relevant. In contrast to Murmann and Orton’s open question, Fox’s Do you see me? aims to confront and unsettle.

Questions, questions. Tina M’s photograph of the remains of a park bench, only the metal frames left, is a poignant image. When we learn the story behind There’s Chuck, Where’s Chuck?, the image is even more affecting, a reminder of the toll that Covid has taken on disabled and homeless people. Clinical Frailty Scale by Abi also highlights the precariousness of disabled people’s lives during the pandemic.

Not Going Anywhere is a brilliant title. I wish the curators had expanded on this idea in the information about the exhibition. Exploring the meaning and significance of the title would have given more context and might have better explained the curators’ intentions for the project. As it was, I felt that the different approaches taken by the artists, along with the mix of artworks, led to some uneasy combinations.

I’m not convinced, for example, that poetry can be presented as part of a gallery in the same way as visual artworks, although I’ve seen this done in other online exhibitions. It doesn’t do the poetry justice and it detracts from the other artworks.

A mosaic of differing colours and shapes are enclosed within a cat shaped object, viewed from the back.

Clinical Frailty Scale: Not Going Anywhere Exhibition 2021

The video format of a screen of multiple images of people filmed individually at home is now so familiar that it has lost much of its impact. So while the videos Good, Good, Good and Soft Rain brought a smile to my face, they became mixed up in my mind with many similar films created during lockdown by community arts organisations. While organisations’ work in maintaining connections through online creative activities has been vital to so many people, it hasn’t necessarily pushed any boundaries.

Not Going Anywhere could have been yet another collection of lockdown art, similar to many others that have been pulled together over recent months. Spotlighting disability issues has given a focus to the exhibition, although I would have liked this focus to have been sharpened even more. There are several artworks that give this exhibition an edge, but it could have been edgier.

What is encouraging is that more disabled people are branching out into curating, bringing new artists to our attention, experimenting with ideas and formats.

The work of many of the artists here shows that disability arts is spreading across the north, with a resurgence underway in Yorkshire. As some Yorkshire folk would say, there’s no need to go anywhere else.

Not Going Anywhere is online until 28 February 2022.

A photo-mosaic version of the exhibition is also on display in the cafe area of Explore York, Central Library, York.