(Photograph: Work-in-progress for 2013 exhibition, “Roaring Whispers,” featuring digital painting by Kateryna Fury, autistic paraplegic artist with Ehlas Danlos Syndrome, framed and installed by Dawn-joy Leong.)
This post may be incoherent. Babbly. Erratic. That is because wordedness is failing me right now, there is a huge chunk of festering goop hurtling around in rabid mockery inside my verbal brain. Forgive me. I hope the message somehow transcends my lack of worded ability.
Disabilities is becoming a cute little pop-up-trend for inspiration porn these days. Take a look at this article, “We are not here for your inspiration.”
It’s been weighing on my mind for a few days now, ever since that day, that horribly disappointing experience, which sent me into a spiral of despair. A thick, glutinous blob of nausea wedged between diaphragm and stomach. And a sinking feeling…
The launch of a commissioned interactive ‘multisensory’ installation / art work for people with disabilities at a prestigious institution dedicated to progressive art – by a non-disabled artist. People gathered in rows of seating, arranged in the traditional I-see-you-perform-for-me configuration. Microphones. Erratic speakers making alarming pop-squeek-woooohoooo noises intermittently. Already, a confrontation to those with sensory idiosyncrasies – such as myself. (Normative space is not disability friendly. Even when the occasion is about and for people with disabilities.)
Commissioned artist delivers an opening speech. I strained to listen to the words, busily sieving out the plethora of sonic flotsam and jetsam colliding in the atmosphere, eager to hear about the artist’s experience of disability, the work and how it will impact the lives of people with disabilities. Instead, the artist babbled excitedly on about prestigious art prizes won, and wealthy and ‘important’ people-connections. I was sorely disappointed – literally, because the intense effort cost me a painful, pounding headache and aching muscles from the strain.
Then came the Inspiration Porn. What’s wrong with children and young people with disabilities singing songs and dancing on stage, you may ask. Nothing at all. Except when they are paraded out there like performing monkeys or charity-dolls for the gratification of the Benevolent Colonial Masters. The children and youngsters delivered excellent renditions. I identified with them, and the moments when I could dive into the soul of their expression, I felt a strong emotional-sensory connection. But I also wept at the way the entire staging and presentation was geared towards entertaining the abled audience, that art was used once again to engineer elitism, and mostly because the young performers appeared completely unaware that they were pawns in a huge ableist-driven vehicle.
Music, singing and dancing are cogent agencies for self-expression, learning, giving, connecting and impacting change. I am a passionate advocate and practitioner of multi-art applications, but it breaks my heart when disabled people are choreographed to fit into an ableist libretto and operatic ‘Aida.’ A great deal of art ‘for the disabled’ is manipulated by self-serving ableism, and disabled people are ‘massaged’ into distorted versions of ableist conformity by artists and art institutions claiming “high quality art” as their Golden Standard. Too often, I encounter deliveries that demean and marginalise the very people they enthusiastically advertise to serve. Is it ignorance, or ominously deliberate? Or a complex blend of both?
Everything about us without us.
Disabled artists somehow do not figure in the Big Art Agenda, usually not even when the programmes are for and about people with disabilities. When questioned, there seems to be a stock-answer: the institutions’ sweeping declaration that they aim to deliver “high quality” art rings like a poorly penned cheap muzak tune at best, and sadly, more realistically, a slap in the face to all the excellent and brilliant disabled artists.
No voice. Not allowed. The quality of our voice, to speak for ourselves and about ourselves, is somehow just not “high quality” enough.
Meanwhile… the song and dance continues in LaLaLaLaLaLand… and inspiration porn is spewed out by the ableist colonial masters for the ignorant ableist consumers, eagerly lapping up the vomitus, thinking they are supporting a ‘worthy cause.’