I am Not My Disability

Interview by Ray A-J
Photo: Sophie Sheinwald

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In the run up to Brighton Fringe, we asked creators of the Freedom Season exhibition I Am Not My Disability about their production and the importance of self identity

Disabilities are not always visible, and some can remain largely unspoken about. With their new art exhibition, the team behind I Am Not My Disability delve into the stories of 9 people with brain injuries, and how the arts have helped them express themselves. With an array of original artistic works, and a music video, the exhibition aims to educate the audience on the impact of living with a brain injury.

What pushed you to create the exhibition? The idea of the exhibition developed from a previous therapeutic group that worked on making a music video and writing a song for a national competition to educate the public about brain injury. The people best placed to educate the public about the impact of living with a brain injury are those who have experienced it. There are many facets to our sense of self. One important component is that people with disability feel that they are often not represented in society and of less value. This exhibition recognises the powerful message that this group of people have to say to society, this in itself is intrinsically valuable.

Why did you choose to use the arts, and creations such as painted masks, to centre the project on? Sometimes it can be difficult to talk about traumatic events and the use of symbolism can make it more manageable. For example, when drawing a picture or writing a poem about how you feel you are slightly removed from it which makes it bearable and as a result, our artists were able to go deeper emotionally. The other reason is that many people with brain injuries have cognitive communication difficulties (difficulties with starting and maintaining conversations and communicating more complex ideas, views, thoughts and opinions) so expressing themselves through the arts is more enabling than through speech.

How many people are involved with the project? There are a total of nine participants that were split into two groups. The music video group contained three people, and the creative group contained four. There will also be one person who is displaying poetry, and another whom will be singing some self composed songs.

What should audiences expect from your exhibition? Alongside the exhibition of their creative work are theoretical explanations of why a particular technique has been used and the personal reflections of the resident who created it. Audiences should come away with a deeper understanding into what it is like to live with a disability and a shift in their perception of people with disability.

What was the most rewarding part of the project? From the therapists' viewpoints, it was the developmental process each individual made in self awareness and identity throughout the months working on this project. In working therapeutically as a group, they also made deeper connections with each other. Many of them also achieved and created things that they didn’t think they could do. As therapists, we saw a sense of pride for the first time in some of the residents.

What inspired you to create a music video particularly? We thought this would be a unique way of enabling the group to express itself. A song is a good structure in which thoughts and emotions can be contained.

What is your favourite part of your event? Seeing the artists' personal development through their creative work.

Why did you choose to bring the project to Brighton Fringe this year? In order to get the artists' message out into the community and to help them feel heard. Also, Brighton Fringe is on our doorstep and it is perfect in terms of its aims.

What is your favourite thing about Brighton Fringe? The diversity of events. But also there is quite an emphasis on people with disability, particularly this year.

How has being part of Brighton Fringe helped you with your projects? It’s given a timescale, specific aim and feeling of importance to the group. The group are very excited about it.

What would you say to a performer thinking about taking part in Brighton Fringe? It’s a lot of work but hopefully will be worthwhile, so start getting prepared very early.

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