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Disabled Artists Discuss How Disability And Ableism Affect Their Art

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

By Serena Bains

The Peak

10 x 5: Art & Disability was an event that took place on October 24 to platform the art and voices of disabled artists, and allow them to describe how their disabilities inform their artwork.

The event, presented by BC Culture Days and Kickstart Disability Arts & Culture, consisted of 10 artists doing five-minute presentations on their relationship with art. Following this, there was a question and answer session, during which participants could gain further insights into the artists’ perceptions of their disabilities and how these intersect with their artwork.

Whenever I attend an event held by the disabled community, I feel at home, as I know the community present can empathize with experiencing the same constant ableism that I have experienced. As someone who gave up artwork long ago due to joint pain and a lack of motivation, the event was a refreshing and nuanced expression of loss, passion, and pain. The artists spoke about how the reality of resiliency from a disabled perspective is enduring pain to simply participate in a creative process.

August Bramhoff, who became disabled as a result of an accident in 2013, expressed the loss experienced while reflecting on learning how to write their name again: “Just having the thought of possibly losing something that I valued more than anything, [ . . . ] my ability to create and make art. That shook me to my core.”

Healing and regaining their ability to make and create art became Bramhoff’s main priorities. Bramhoff continues their work on these priorities constantly, as a photographer who works with film — digital work aggravates their disability. Bramhoff has a series of self-study pinhole photography that will be in an upcoming show in the Ranger Station Gallery in November.

Artist Taryn Goodwin works with the mediums of dialogue and interviews to reframe the body as knowledge. She presented and read one of her pieces which consisted of an interview she had with herself. The purpose of the interview piece was to encourage people to go at their own pace in pursuing reflection, wellness, and power. After reciting the interview, Goodwin asked participants to reflect and interview themselves about how to non-judgmentally listen to their body and how to integrate wellness within their artwork — especially when pursuing their passion can cause more pain.

Goodwin inquired of us, “What ways can we build slow, full, activism in producing personal power and agency, against the capitalist, ableist, classist, [and] racist forms of oppression? And how can we redefine disability? Not as a limitation, but as a skill set to be shared, exchanged, and valued?”

"How can we redefine disability? Not as a limitation, but as a skill set to be shared, exchanged, and valued?"

Troy Lindstrom is a line work illustrator whose upcoming exhibit in December at the Two Rivers Gallery consists of portraits of people who have had a positive impact on his life. While Lindstrom expressed his love for art, illustrations, and the creative process, he also reflected on the anger and resentment living with a disability can create within a person. Many of his illustrations express these emotions through pieces entitled #NotAMonster, #NotInvisible, and #NotBetterOffDead. The latter represents the extent of society’s ableism, where it is a common belief that the better alternative to not having a disability is not existing at all. 

Lindstrom spoke to why I imagine all of the artists and participants were present at the event, saying, “If we want to be seen, we must stand and show society who we are. It is a decision that every person with a disability must make for themselves because it comes with risks.” If we don’t show society who disabled people are and gain further representation, nothing will change for us.

Overall, the event was a reflection of the barriers disabled people have to endure in every aspect of our lives. While the resilience of every artist is noteworthy, the discussion avoided the ableism of inspiration porn where people “overcame” their disabilities. The conversations of ableism, capitalism, racism, and all forms of oppression from the viewpoint of disability justice is a necessary dialogue that will continue through these artists and their resulting artwork.


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