Monday, 31 May 2010


A new artwork was revealed last week on Trafalgar Square´s fourth plinth, London. It´s called “Nelson´s ship in a bottle” and it´s the work of contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare. I read various articles about this work in the Guardian, but the one that mostly caught my attention was entitled “Do black artists need special treatment?. The author of the article, Munira Mirza, was questioning if it still makes sense today talking about ‘black art’, why it is that we still assume that to be black is to be marginal, what is the benefit for art and artists (and the public, I would add) to continue debating ‘diversity’, thus defining culture in rigid categories, limiting its fluidity, its freedom.

The search for diversity and representativeness has been a great concern in countries like the UK, and especially, but not exclusively, in the city of London. A multi- and inter-cultural city, where each one takes one´s world and mixes it with the others´. The search for diversity and representativeness has defined public policies in he last decades in many areas. Nevertheless, Munira Mirza questions if, after all these years and the world having changed quiet a lot, it would make more sense to stop classifying diversity based on colour. “Barriers today”, says Munira Mirza, “are largely class-based – income, networks, education. And those affect many white people as well.”

While I was reading the article, I was thinking: now substitute the word ‘black’ by ‘disabled’. And I ask: Do disabled artists need special treatment? By coincidence, on that same day there was an article in Le Monde entitled “Danse avec des béquilles” (Dance with crutches).
“What is the space of dance in your life, of disability in your dance”, they asked dancer Ali Fekih. “I´ve been dancing for twenty years”, he answered, “and facing the stigma of disability. It´s always the same story and obviously a danger to be caught in disability. It´s a reality, but this doesn´t stop us from doing our job. We are artists before being disabled, and that´s what some people forget”.

Many of us look at disabled artists with a mixture of admiration, for their struggle to get where they want, and compassion, for the limitations we believe disability will always impose on them, not allowing them to reach the level of other artists. Those working in Communication, rarely do they resist the temptation of highlighting disability in order to call the attention of the media and the public. What are the expectations of the latter? Normally, not as high as if it involved ‘normal’ artists.

Who benefits from this approach? Noone probably. Because disabled artists, as we saw, want to be seen first as artists. Their struggle is the struggle of all those who want to get somewhere. With some differences, no doubt, but nothing they are not used to. Frequently, programmers also miss the opportunity of presenting an excellent show because they had already programmed a performance with disabled people in a certain season and, quotas fullfiled, they will not programme another. In the end, the public, ready to express its admiration/compassion, ready to be less demanding, not so interested, though, in attending a performance they expect to be disturbing, in a way, and of a lesser quality.

But, sometimes, we win. We win when we attend a marvellous performance, that opens a window to a new world, that subtly questions our prejudices and makes us fly, fills us with happiness.

The four videos that follow are the works of foreign and portuguese artists and they can better illustrate what I am talking about.

The cost of living, by DV8 Physical Theatre

Duo improvisé, by Brahem Aïache and Nicolas Fayol

Menina da lua, by Dançando com a Diferença

O Aqui, by CIM – Companhia Integrada Multidisciplinar (this performance will represent Portugal at the International VSA Festival
in Washington in June 2010)

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