From the late Mexican painter Frida Kahlo to Stevie Wonder the singer-songwriter, artists have challenged expectations of what people with disabilities can achieve. Art has a way of changing our perceptions of disability, providing a fresh and sometimes daring perspective on disability viewed through the lens of culture.
The biannual Unlimited Festival, originally part of the Cultural Olympiad for the London 2012 Olympics, is one of the biggest gatherings of artists with disabilities and audiences on an international scale. Together with events such as DaDaFest in Liverpool and DisArt in Michigan, the Unlimited Festival is part of a recent boom in disabled artistic voices in the international arts scene.
The Unlimited Festival aims to celebrate the artistic vision of artists with disabilities, embedding their work in the UK and international cultural sectors and reaching new audiences. “We don’t believe in operating in ghettos, but in exposing our artists to the level of ambition out there,” said Unlimited’s senior producer Jo Verrent.
Here are some contemporary artists whose take on disabilities have inspired powerful art.
1. Jess Thom
Theatre artist Jess Thom has Tourette syndrome, a neurological condition that affects her mobility and causes her to make movements and noises she can’t control. Because of her tics, she says the word “biscuit” uncontrollably thousands of times a day.
While attending a live performance led to Thom being moved, humiliated and frustrated, into the sound booth. But the incident also sparked off her artistic journey to the stage. She now holds her own solo comedy performance that celebrates creativity while shedding light on the often-misunderstood affliction of Tourette’s.