Award-winning author, Wongaiibon girl, and wheelchair consumer Gayle Kennedy put her personal distinctive spin on the Artstate Wagga Wagga theme of Strolling Collectively, in her keynote speech.
Not mincing phrases, Kennedy mentioned flatly: ‘Within the area of a brief few months you might have proven your hand – it fits you [this digital pivot], however it additionally fits us! And we aren’t going again.’
Delivering her keynote from her dwelling through Zoom, Kennedy mentioned we had been all compelled to embrace the COVID digital pivot in document time, which is testomony that boundaries to accessibility and engagement could be eliminated. It’s a curious head flip on the ides of need and wish. She mentioned that all of us want to make use of this second for sustained change.
For Kennedy 2020 began nice. She had been invited to current at Sydney Writers Competition. Then COVID hit and the cancellations began to roll in. Nevertheless it wasn’t a nasty information story for all.
‘For years we have now been asking how can we be included within the arts… to be half and parcel of the humanities world, and on the whole, having the ability to make money working from home when the necessity arises. All of this was too arduous to think about pre-COVID. All we heard was, “we are able to’t try this”, however swiftly everyone seems to be doing Zoom conferences, Broadway reveals are livestreamed and everybody’s working from dwelling.’
‘It occurred actually rapidly, with none actual fuss, and the explanation was as a result of able-bodied folks wanted it. To assume we have now been sitting with our noses in opposition to the window panes for thus lengthy, after which bang. We’re not going to return,’ mentioned Kennedy.
‘All these wonderful artists, dancers, singer, painters, authors had been being offered throughout the nation, and being streamed abroad, and folks had been seeing them.’ She continued: ‘We all know now [because of COVID] that we could be a part of these festivals.’
‘We are able to do it – we have now the expertise, and now we have now the know-how! It’s as much as us as disabled artists to talk out, and make a noise and say, “Cease, you aren’t going to make use of that excuse with us anymore”’, mentioned Kennedy.
CLAIMING FRIDA BACK
For too lengthy, disabled celebrities have been co-opted, mentioned Kennedy. ‘Frida Kahlo was severely disabled, however you chop her off at her breast and give attention to her monobrow and flowers in hair, and brought her away from us as disabled artists,’ she mentioned.
Kennedy paid a nod to Caroline Bowditch, the skilled Aussie theatre-maker now primarily based in Glasgow, who created the play Falling in Love with Frida, after seeing an exhibition of her work on the Nationwide Gallery of Australia in 2001.
Bowditch told SMH on the time of the play’s launch. ‘I grew to become actually concerned about how she is simply remembered for her artwork, not as a disabled artist.’
‘As a result of, in my head, incapacity and success, did not go collectively. So due to this fact how might this wonderful Mexican artist be in Australia’s nationwide gallery?’
Kennedy mentioned the play was an act in reclaiming Frida ‘for us’, occurring to say Joni Mitchell and Neil Younger who each spent a few years as youngsters remoted and looking on the world with polio.
‘You develop up dwelling inside your head – it’s a talent that you simply be taught. Most artists with incapacity are like every other artist on this means. We don’t get bored dwelling with ourselves.’
She added that what completely irked her, and lots of others dwelling with incapacity, is that when Stephen Hawking died in 2018, he was depicted, ‘standing in a go well with on the finish of a golden stairway, the place he might run as much as heaven as a result of he was lastly freed of his wheelchair.’
Kennedy continued: ‘I believe it irritated those that his incapacity was so in your face. Our wheelchair is a part of us. We’re not confined by it; we’re freed by it.’
She continued: ‘And know-how means we’re now not invisible and has given us mobility we have now not had earlier than. However the world must meet up with us and cease excluding us.’
DIVERSITY & ACCESS GO HAND-IN-HAND
‘Everyone seems to be strolling round woke however it’s simply rhetoric. Rhetoric must be transferred into change,’ mentioned Kennedy. ‘It is advisable go searching your communities and cease excluding folks – it’s turning into ridiculous.’
She reminded that all of us come from totally different sorts of backgrounds, and in some cultures they don’t enable the usage of information canines, and in different international locations they haven’t any understanding of what a white cane means.
‘In lots of cultures having a incapacity is frowned upon, and in case you can’t contribute to your group, bodily and monetarily, you might be pushed apart,’ she defined.
‘Everyone seems to be strolling round woke however it’s simply rhetoric. Rhetoric must be transferred into change.’
‘We have to have a look at a extra numerous arts scene, as a result of the humanities in Australia is white – let’s face it. Sure, we have now made black strides taking place however … [in a similar way] folks with incapacity should not being included in movies, on TV present, on panel reveals – there are sufficient “mouthy” disabled folks on the market to play their position … why can’t we simply be proven as half and parcel of a group?’
Kennedy continued: ‘It is advisable allow us to to talk for ourselves. We don’t want you to talk for us, however we do want you to offer the gear so we are able to converse,’ once more making reference to the capability for entry that COVID has enabled on-line.
MORE TRADITIONAL ACCESS – AKA BRICKS AND MORTAR
Kennedy made the purpose that simply because an artist could be in a wheelchair, deaf or have autism, they’re no much less skilled as artists.
‘Artwork is sort of a big Tower of Babel the place all of us converse its language. A incapacity doesn’t distract from the ability of the artwork we make,’ she mentioned.
Why then, ought to disabled artists be restricted when it comes right down to competition invites, theatre billing and dwell music gigs?
‘I hadn’t been invited to a author’s competition for a very long time, as a result of cash is at all times tight to pay for a carer or mobility assistant to accompany me,’ defined Kennedy.
‘How about these massive names invited to competition, why not donate a little bit of their enterprise class fare again to competition to permit a disabled artist to attend?’
Kennedy recognised that we have now all types of boundaries put between us. However she requested the viewers to think about the considered making an attempt to go to the bathroom on a airplane when you’re wheelchair sure, or desirous to see dwell music in a pub – issues we take with no consideration.
‘There have been gigs I’ve wished to go to, to see a band, however a 100-year previous pub has a heritage itemizing on it and gained’t present entry. I’ve been to Paris and Amsterdam and all these constructing are previous however did not cease me. The Louvre is accessible, so I ought to be capable to go to your 100-year shitty heritage pub and be allowed to hearken to dwell music. It is simple to create excuses.’
Kennedy’s message was that whereas these previous months have been liberating by way of digital entry – the place all can sit within the entrance row and hearken to dwell music or watch a theatre efficiency – there may be nonetheless a lot change that must be made.
‘As ready physique folks – you within the viewers – it’s important to converse up too. One step doesn’t accessible make; one step just isn’t insurmountable. Concentrate on your environment as effectively.’
She concluded: ‘We have to work collectively; we have to unite’, choosing up on Artstate’s theme Strolling Collectively.
This text relies on a session at Artstate 2020.