Allyson Hamblett is an artist and a long-time disability and transgender rights advocate. This week, she tells us about Arts Access Aotearoa’s “I Am an Artist campaign”, which aims to change people’s attitudes and perceptions by promoting the work of artists who experience disability.
Society holds many preconceptions about disability, based on fear of the unknown.
I’m a disabled artist at Spark Centre of Creative Development in Auckland. I’m also one of the five artists taking part in the I Am an Artist Campaign, run by Arts Access Aotearoa in five cities over five weeks. It’s a national campaign aimed at changing people’s perceptions and behaviour towards people with a disability, sensory impairment or lived experience of mental ill-health.
It’s also about promoting disabled artists who make great art, often with the support and guidance of community-based creative spaces like Spark Centre. It’s a real privilege for me to represent the centre and disabled artists in Auckland in this campaign. While I take my art practice very seriously, I think wider society doesn’t really understand the contribution disabled people can make to contemporary art – and of course, to society in general. We’re just people.
I remember a few comments last year that alluded to artworks made by disabled people as being good forms of occupational therapy. I thought, “Why don’t you just look at the artwork? Forget about the fact that the artist may have a disability.”
I sometimes wonder how we can get away from the medical, therapy aspects of disability. I hope this campaign can help us do this.
I also wish society would value creativity in the same way as it values sporting endeavours. Often, making art and composing music are seen as hobbies you should only focus on once you have a real job. Imagine being able to make a contribution to a society that truly values creativity.
I have cerebral palsy and I’ve been an artist at Spark Centre for about 12 years. I thought I would go along and see if I liked it, not really knowing what to do with my life at that time. Spark Centre has given me the time to develop my creativity in an environment that’s very supportive of diversity.
Students at Spark Centre love being there. It’s a social space, where we all end up creating great artwork. If there was a way to bottle the creative energy that comes out of the centre, we would be a very rich country.
As Media Assistant for the organisation, I also have the privilege of writing artists profiles for our newsletter and website – capturing stories that are often untold.
At the moment, I’m really focussed on portraiture and drawing figures in different environments. I like to do this by telling people’s stories but also love the technical challenge of creating depth and perspective. I’m fascinated by turning a two-dimensional piece of canvas into something that looks like a space you could walk into.
I become so focussed when I’m making art about something that is relevant to me that I almost become a part of the work. In 2010, I painted a portrait of Todd Fernie, a really good friend. Painting his portrait was a way of dealing with the grief of losing him through suicide in 2009.
I also compose my own music. After five years of work with mentor and fellow musician, Sam Benge, I hope to release a CD of my music. Together, we’ve composed and recorded 17 pieces of music.
I’ve always had an interest in music and playing the piano. A piano teacher once told my parents there was no way she could ever teach someone like me. So when I found out what she’d said, I decided to teach myself. I was ten at the time.
Last year, I took part in Arts Access Aotearoa’s Making a Difference Arts Advocacy Programme, which included a series of workshops aimed at providing practical tools to disabled people so they could advocate for improved access to the arts in Auckland. It was about rocking the boat and creating change to improve everyone’s lives. The desire to change things led me to become chair of the Local Advisory Committee of CCS Disability Action Auckland, where I can also use my influence to make a difference.
Sometimes social change feels like an uphill battle, but I’ve learnt that it takes time, and being part of the process is half the battle.
This blog was originally published on Attitudelive.com
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