I completed my MA in Inclusive Arts Practice at the University of Brighton in 2019.
I am passionate about making the arts and heritage sector accessible and inclusive to all. Using art to support museum interpretation through socially engaged and inclusive practice. During my MA Inclusive Arts Practice I collaborated with 8 participants over 7 weeks through arts-based research. We answered my research question ‘How should we interpret and curate the history of labelling people with learning difficulties (neurodiversity)? Looking at the charitable, medical, educational, media and personal narratives’ we looked at objects within the Wellcome Collection Library and studied newspaper articles and neurodivergent characters in TV and film to see how neurodiversity is being portrayed today and in the past. The group wanted to explore accessible activism. Highlighting the negative language and portrayal still being used by the media and society.
For my creative response I curated an inclusive exhibition. Visitors were able to write on whiteboard protest signs to protest around the subjects shown in the exhibition and think about what accessible protest would mean. Visitors were able to leave a message to Percy F. the first diagnosed dyslexic; then in 1896 labelled as ‘Congenital Word Blindness’. Around the exhibition there were ‘talking labels’ and a ‘talking book’ where visitors could find out more about the artworks displayed. Visitors were welcome to take a seat on the ‘language’ cushions. Walls were painted cream instead of white to make the space less harsh to be in. During the research I tried to create art that would be accessible for others and myself to make. For my creative response I wanted to learn a new photographic process, printing cyanotype on glass. I am still learning the technique as it takes a long time to perfect. Each of the prints represents the themes we spoke about during the research.
I would like to further and develop my work in making museums inclusive spaces for all.
We held a Neurodiversity event at the Free Space Project to showcase the research. During the event we showcased the artwork we’ve made together and had conversations around neurodiversity.
Visitors to the event also had the opportunity to take part in a creative activity. Creating an accessible protest on how neurodiversity is portrayed in the media.
These are the photographs taken at our showcase event in January 2019. We displayed the research and had an open invitation for visitors to come and see our work and to hear about neurodiversity.
My research question is…How should we interpret and curate the history of labelling people with learning difficulties (neurodiversity)?
The purpose and aims of the study are:
The research will start conversations through learning about neurodiversity history by exploring archives, newspaper articles and museum objects, reflecting on their own personal experiences, in comparison to, and informed by, archive items at the Wellcome Collection.
How to tell an unbiased narrative through historical accounts and personal experiences.
The terminology to use when talking about neurodiversity, to challenge prejudice views, to think about why there is a focus on ‘curing’ and how we portray neurodiversity in the media.
Through the research I would hope to find out for museums and collections what’s important to the neurodiverse community when telling the history of labelling people with learning difficulties? Through the charitable, medical, educational and personal narratives.
The art-based research took place from Monday 15th October 15th– Monday 26th November
In total there were 8 participants who defined themselves as having a learning difficulty (neurodiversity) for example dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD, ASD and autism due to being experts of neurodiversity and can provide valuable knowledge.
We focused on the charitable, medical, educational, media and personal narratives. Each session was a different theme:
Workshop 1: Monday 15th October
Introduction and looked at the history/language
Workshop 2: Tuesday 23rd October
Visit Wellcome Collection library and archive
Workshop 3: Monday 29th October
We looked at the media in newspapers, TV and film
Workshop 4: Monday 5th November
Medical and educational
Workshop 5: Monday 12th November
Charitable and protest
Workshop 6: Monday 19th November
I left a session blank so that we could explore more on something that was of interest to the group: Accessible protest
Workshop 7: Monday 29th November
Design the museum and evaluation
I’ve now been analysed the art-based research and these seem to be the emerging themes:
Language used by the media
Accessible activism and campaigning and protesting
Changing people’s perceptions and especially on curing. Having a positive experience and an outlet against the negative
Putting the history into context
I am now working on my creative response to be exhibited at the University of Brighton end of year show in July. Still to be confirmed but I believe the first day will be Friday 5th July.
Here are a few of the journalist articles we looked at and some I’ve collected since the research:
On the first day we laid out the timeline I created. Showing a basic history of neurodiversity.
I also bought along ‘Percy’ who I created for a previous activity at the Wellcome Collection. Where we wrote a message to Percy on how we would feel or how we think Percy might have felt being the first dyslexic.
We then discussed language and made labels about positive, negative, debatable and situational words.
Throughout the research we kept a reflective journal where we wrote our thoughts from each session and pasted photographs to reflect over the following week.
Our second meeting took place at the Wellcome Library. I previously researched items in the collection and reserved 20 objects. Together we looked at each object and took photographs of what we found interesting.
For the third session I laid out a concertina book across a table with images of neurodiverse celebrities, TV and film characters and newspaper headlines. Participants also brought along headlines. Together we made a ‘comic book’ of neurodiversity looking at how neurodiversity is portrayed in the media.
For the fourth session we looked at curing and looked at the Westminster Commission on Autism research on cures parents have been offered. We used icing sugar to make the medicines. Then we looked at education and decorated exercise books with our memories of schooling.
Working with 8 participants we researched ‘How should we interpret and curate the history of labelling people (neurodiversity*)? Looking at the charitable, medical, educational, media and personal narratives.’
We visited the ‘Wellcome Library’ in London, completed our own research that looked at how neurodiversity has been portrayed in the past and by the media today. As a group we wanted to explore accessible activism and change/highlight negative portrayals and language still being used by the media and society such as the word ‘suffers’. The headlines displayed show current views on neurodiversity. The article in the frame is about me written by a local newspaper that described dyspraxia as a ‘Muscle Disorder Battler’.
When designing the exhibition I wanted to see if I could make an inclusive and welcoming space. I feel that accessible activism can take place in the form of being able to take ownership of a space that is unwelcoming and making it accessible for yourself and others.
During the research I tried to create art that would be accessible for others and myself to make. For my creative response I wanted to learn a new photographic process, printing cyanotype on glass. I am still learning the technique as it takes a long time to perfect. Each of the prints represents the subjects we spoke about during the research.
*neurodiversity, for example, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD, ASD and autism….
You are invited to:
Use the whiteboard protest signs to protest around the subjects shown in the exhibition and think about what accessible protest would mean.
Leave a message to Percy F. the first diagnosed dyslexic; then in 1896 labelled as ‘Congenital Word Blindness’.
Press the ‘talking labels’ to find out more about the artworks displayed and take a look through the ‘talking book’ where you can see photographs of the artwork we made together during the research.
You are also welcome to take a seat on the ‘language’ cushions.
Talking Labels audio transcript:
Due to my work and interest in museums, I feel museums are useful places to have difficult conversations and to support positive change by working with communities to tell their stories.
During the research I bought along a polystyrene head on a plinth like a statue you might seen in a museum to have a conversation about ‘Percy F’ the first diagnosed dyslexic, then in 1896 labelled as ‘Congenital Word Blindness’. Apart from his first name and that he was 14 years of age we do not know anything else about Percy or how he felt being the first dyslexic.
You are welcome to write or draw a message to Percy F on how you would feel or how you think Percy might have felt being the first dyslexic.
During the research I tried to create art that would be accessible for others and myself to make.
I enjoy darkroom printing and wanted to learn a new photographic processes printing cyanotype on glass. I coated the glass in gelatine, once dried coated in the cyanotype chemicals, once dried I placed the negative over the glass and exposed to daylight, then developed in water. Some are printed on paper as I am still learning the technique as it takes a long time to perfect. Each of the prints represents the subjects we spoke about during the research.
The Charitable shows the National Autistic Society previous and current logos.
The Medical shows a newspaper image of the ‘bleach’ sold online as a cure for autism.
The Educational shows a collage of computer software and easy grip pens.
The Media show Peta fake research campaign ‘Got Autism?’
The second Media print shows characters on TV including Julia the first autistic muppet and Ryan the dyspraxic Doctor Who companion.
The Personal shows a photograph of Donald Gray Triplett the first diagnosed autistic born in 1933.
During the research we wanted to explore the thought of accessible protesting further. We made protest signs taking inspiration from the newspaper headlines we had been looking at. The newspaper headlines are being shown by film on a loop. The film is just over 8 minutes long. The article in the frame is about me written by a local newspaper that described dyspraxia as a ‘Muscle Disorder Battler’. I’ve also made a LED neon sign of the word suffers. A word the media tends to use a lot but not necessarily a word individuals would use to describe themselves.
You are welcome to write or draw on the protest white boards taking inspiration from the newspaper headlines or what do you think a accessible protest would look like?
MA show took place from the 6th-13th July at the University of Brighton, Grand Parade.