The Space In – Between, curated by Kate Marsh and arts organisation Metal, took place on 6th September 2018 at the Southbank London. It was the culmination of a research and development programme for 20 artists through residencies at Metal sites in Peterborough, Southend and Liverpool.
CHANGE MAKERS BLOG
November 2nd – The rise of ‘cripping up’
Quite a lot has changed in my lifetime, my childhood tapes (free with boxes of cereal) are now unrecognisable slabs of plastic to a digital generation. Flares did, as my mum foretold, come back and then mercifully went back to where they came from. There have also been huge shifts in how we understand marginalisation in society, it’s not perfect or finished by any means but the discussion seems to have moved on.
I have felt for a long time that disability, physical or cognitive ‘difference’ is often the least ‘fashionable’ of the ‘causes’ but then I would say that I suppose, that isn’t really the point here. I have noticed recently an increased acceptance of ‘cripping up’, a sort of collective shoulder shrug by the powers that be that say’s “yeah, we know, we know, but we’re not bothered enough to actually not make that film/play” The pull and power of the blockbuster is stronger and louder than the actions and voices of those objecting.
In parallel to this observation/rant I was interested this week to read the many responses to the Channel 4 documentary, “My week as a Muslim” – a programme in which a non-Muslim, white woman is ‘costumed’ to pass as a Muslim woman, including brown-face and prosthetic nose. The aim of this programme was to “better understand the reality of islamophobia”. An understandable aim perhaps, but this approach raises the question; why don’t we trust ‘actual’ Muslim women to give us an insight into life as a Muslim woman? The notion that the discussion is more palatable or accessible when led by the dominant white, normalist voice is not only deeply uncomfortable, but it also perpetuates an environment where it is accepted that the experiences of the ‘other’, the marginalised can be mediated through the already privileged voices of the established ‘norm’.
This morning I saw a trailer for a new film “Breathe” where non-disabled actor (Andrew Garfield) portrays Robin Cavendish, a disabled man, (a pretty cool individual actually, according to my brief Wikipedia research…what? it’s only a blog!) This film joins a canon of ‘schmaltzy’ bio-pics about overcoming the ‘tragedy’ of disability or you know, ‘not’ in the case of the much maligned “Me Before You”. The appropriation of disability as a commodity in feeding the appetite of the voyeur or the inspiration tourist is a confusingly consented upon strategy in film-making and story-telling.
Is there comfort in knowing that a protagonist can stand-up, miraculously grow back a limb or two, or return their skin to a reassuring shade? Tom Shakespeare offers an interesting comment on why the viewer might find solace in this act of shifting from ‘other’ to normal;
If disabled people are seen to be distressed or suffering, then this may be uncomfortable to non-disabled people who try to avoid the difficult aspects of life (Shakespeare 2006:178)
To extend upon Shakespeare’s thinking here, we are satisfied to suspend our discomfort if we know that it’s all pretend, the resurrection to normal means we are not required to confront or think about ‘real’ life. Thinking about it in these terms is actually somewhat ridiculous, primarily non-disabled viewers, watching primarily non-disabled ‘players’ borrowing the reality and often physicality of another person or persons who is entirely absent from the game.
So why care? Of course there is the practicality of using the narrative of disability for (significant) profit. More than that though, is the fact that this (mis)representation perpetuates the narrative of pity, even when the plot is supposedly about ‘bravery’ and ‘resolve’, in my experience, personally and hearing from others is that these terms are pretty alien to ‘real’ disabled folk.
In conclusion and this is of course impossible to conclude upon, my personal response is to suggest that ‘some people’ (you know who you are) should find their own story and tell it from their own perspective, rather than a clumsy re-telling of someone else’s.
Shakespeare, T (2006) Disability Rights and Wrongs, Routledge, London
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About Change Makers
Increasing the diversity of senior leadership in art and culture by helping to develop a cohort of leaders who are Black, minority ethnic and/or disabled by means of a targeted senior leadership training and development programme.
Disabled dance artist Kate Marsh will work with Metal as an ‘agent for change’ and future leader, leading a programme that explores new approaches to talent development, leadership and collaboration for disabled dance artists via a series of LABs, residencies, and up to 12 new commissions. The works will be presented at industry showcases at the Southbank Centre, Metal events in Liverpool, Peterborough and Southend, and a new national symposium to coincide with Unlimited 2018. Kate will undertake an extensive professional development programme including a month long residency in Australia and will input to organisation wide change within Metal.
About Kate Marsh
Kate Marsh is a disabled dance artist with over 20 years’ experience of performing, teaching and making. Her interests are centred around perceptions of the body in the arts and notions of corporeal aesthetics. Specifically, she is interested in each of our lived experiences of our bodies, and how this does (or doesn’t) inform our artistic practice. Her recently completed PhD focusses on leadership in the context of dance and disability and draws strongly on the voices of artists to interrogate questions around notions of leadership, perceptions and the body.