El Alto

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d/Deaf and Disability arts in the Americas

Introduction

Welcome to El Alto.

The second issue of the British Council’s review of arts and culture in the Americas is dedicated to the d/Deaf and disability arts movement and ‘crip’ culture. Anchored in the words of UK artist Yinka Shonibare’s bold declaration that disability arts is the last Avant-Garde arts movement, the publication brings views from d/Deaf and disabled artists, makers, and cultural leaders, all agitating towards a more just and equitable future – dismantling and building new worlds that make room for care, difference and disability culture.

This edition was co-edited with Tangled Art + Disability (Canada) and 17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos (Mexico). We would like to thank the collaboration of Bodies in Translation (BIT).

Image of a rehearsal. Four performers are sitting on a wooden floor, almost intertwined. A wheelchair can be seen in the background.

Image from Mundana, a dance company established in 2017 by dancer and acrobat Inés Coronado in Peru.  Photo: Lucía Alfaro.

Acknowledgments

Series Editor: Pablo Rosselló
Issue Editors: Saada El-Akhrass, Sean Lee, Beatriz Miranda
Designer: Joseph Pochodzaj
Translators: Quentin Pope (Spanish/English), Patricia Oliver (English/Spanish)

With thanks to: Alejandra Szczepaniak, Alejandro Cervantes, Alex Bulmer, Andrés Milán, Auramarina Lazarde, Benjamín Mayer-Foulkes, Carla Rice, Carrie Hage, Colectivo No es Igual, Cristina Becker, Cyn Rozeboom, Daniela Fajardo, Diana Solano, Emma Campbell, Francis Tomkins, Heidi Persaud, Jo Verrent, Juliana Ferreira, Kayla Besse, Kaylyn Hamlyn, Lindsay Fisher, Lorena Martinez, Lucy Ralph, María García Holley, Pam Briz, Rodrigo Fernández de Gortari, Ruth Hogan, Salomé Esper, Sarah Frankland, Silvia Godinez, Simon M. Benedict, Sissi Hamman, Steven Brett, Susy Villafañe, Tracy Tidgwell, Valeria Zamparolo, Veronica Bergna, Victoria Cho, Wynsor Taylor, Yinka Shonibare CBE

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Pandemic Postcards  – Canada & Mexico

 

Pandemic Postcards

Curated by Alex Bulmer, the Pandemic Postcards tell the stories of artists within the Deaf and disabled community living through the self-isolation and quarantine period of COVID-19.

Oasis by Maria del Carmen Camarena

 

Maria del Carmen Camarena is a vocalist who has performed in numerous musical groups. She appeared in the El Rey Nació opera from composer José Luis González Moya in Guadalajara city’s Teatro Diana in 2012 and performed at the fourth Nairobi International Culture Festival in 2016, along with other high-profile performances.

Because Sometimes Poetry Isn’t Beautiful by Hanan Hazime

 

Hanan Hazime is a multidisciplinary artist, creative writer, community arts educator and writing instructor living in Tkaranto/Toronto. She identifies as a Lebanese-Canadian Muslimah Feminist and Mad Pride Activist. When not writing or creating art, Hanan enjoys reading fantasy novels, over-analyzing things, photo-blogging, dancing with faeries in the woods and drinking copious amounts of tea.

Les Visages me Manquent by Edon Descollines

 

Edon Descollines is a visual artist, poet, dancer and actor known for the expressive quality of his performances and for his creativity and commitment. Joe, Jack et John is a theatre company of actors with intellectual disabilities or from diverse cultural backgrounds that produces original, bilingual, multidisciplinary shows combining video, dance and the spoken word.

HARBOURFRONT CENTRE, on Toronto’s waterfront, is an innovative non-profit cultural organization which creates events and activities of excellence that enliven, educate and entertain a diverse public. Our Mission is to nurture the growth of new cultural expression, stimulate Canadian and international interchange and provide a dynamic, accessible environment for the public to experience the marvels of the creative imagination. Our vision is to be a vibrant home for the culture of our time, inspiring people through the magic of the creative spirit. Harbourfront Centre is the producer and presenter of CoMotion Festival 2022, a new multi-disciplinary International Festival of Deaf and Disability Arts, curated by Alex Bulmer.

 

With 30 professional years across theatre, television, film, radio and education, Alex Bulmer is dedicated to intersectional collaborative art practice, fueled by a curiosity of the improbable and deeply informed by her experience of becoming blind.

She is activated by obstacles, well exposed to the absurd, and embraces generosity, listening, time and uncertainty within her artistic and personal life.

Named one of the most influential disabled artists by UK’s Power Magazine, Bulmer is an award-winning writer, director, actor and dramaturge. She is Artistic Director of Common Boots Theatre, co-founder of Cripping the Stage with British Council Canada, in Toronto, and the Lead Curator of CoMotion 2022, an international Deaf and Disability Arts festival produced by Harbourfront Centre.

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Víctor H, Mariana Tirado Martin, Gina Rubio, and
Diego Lamas Encabo – Mexico

Self-Portraits

Artists Víctor H, Mariana Tirado Martin, Gina Rubio, and Diego Lamas Encabo share their relationship to their art, body, and interior world.

Diego Lamas Encabo's painting 'Melusina' of a person and a cat, reclining together on a white pillow.

Melusina, by Diego Lamas Encabo. Courtesy of Diego Lamas.

Diego Lamas Encabo — Expressions

 

Painting is important for me.

It means I can express myself, regardless of my disability.

I feel free.

I’ve loved cats ever since I was very young, and I paint a lot – not only my cats, but also other ones I imagine and invent.

I intervene pictures by painters I admire, giving form to my ideas.

One way I express my affections is by doing a painting of someone and giving it to them as a present.

Mariana Tirado Martin’s abstract paintings, with thick brushstrokes in shades of pink, green, blue, yellow, and orange. Mariana’s name is signed on the bottom-right.

Selva, by Mariana Tirado Martin, acrylic, 42 × 59 cm, 2017.  Courtesy of Cristina Martin.

Mariana Tirado Martin — Soul, Speech, Colours

 

Painting makes me both happy and sad.

It makes me sad when I think about what I cannot do.It makes me happy when I feel that a better place exists.

Blue is sadness.

Green, happiness and contentment.

Red, joy.

And yellow, peace.

Through colours I express how I feel.

My soul speaks.

Serie Doppelgänger, by Víctor H, 2020.  Courtesy of the artist.

A black and white, close-up photo of artist Victor H. looking at themselves in a mirror.

Víctor H — A Self-Portrait Brief Essay

 

As a child I wanted to be an explorer. Some afternoons I’d leave my plastic action figures, put on my Perestroika boots and pack a bag with a rope, a sweater, a dark-green anorak, a few biscuits, a flask and a pair of binoculars (made from toilet paper tubes). Once everything was ready, I’d set off on my adventure and climb up the stairs in the patio of my house, imagining that I was climbing some far-flung mountain.

As I grew older, my dreams of becoming an explorer did not pan out; I didn’t develop in the same way as other adolescents did. I was aware of my body’s fragility, manifested by its lack of physical power. At the same time as these changes and the accompanying emotional distress, I discovered other means of exploring that took me on adventures of a different kind: reading. I started out with comic books called sensacionales ([often] about lucha libre wrestlers) that I picked up at the newspaper stand that I passed on the way to school. After finishing my homework, I read stories about the Wild West or the gritty side of Mexico City. A book fell in my hands a few years later, and I set off on an endless journey of reading. I found that the essay was the best way for me to express my concerns about illness and the literary experience. My interest in inner explorations has made me reflect on family memories and legacies, identity, corporeality, masculinity, sexuality, fragility, autonomy and independence.

My thoughts have also roamed beyond the written word and I have begun exploring the body through photography using the camera on my cell phone. Hence my series of self-portraits allowed me to come to terms with a body I rejected for many years. I continue exploring and trying out new ways of expressing myself to this day.

Storyteller Gina Rubio, Oral Storytelling show Apaga el televisor y enciende tu imaginación, Centro Cultural Casa del Faldón, Querétaro, Mexico, July 2017. 

Gina Rubio — The  Art of the Spoken Word

 

My life changed radically from one day to the next when I developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome. My entire body stopped moving, I lost my sense of touch. The rhythm of my life changed, yet it continued moving in the same direction. I was all that was left, encased in a body that contained me but failed to recognize me after it had disconnected itself from me. I had to unlearn the things I had learned because they were no longer useful to me. I had to reinvent myself. The same body that I had lived with for fifteen years on all kinds of stages, and whose movements, gestures and actions had helped me draw and pronounce my words, had abandoned me, taking with it my independence and some of my freedom. However, my voice stuck with me. Its strength, cadence and rhythm gave so much life to my stories, and I used it to continue being an oral storyteller. And that’s what I’ve done, despite the syndrome’s severe effects on my physical mobility and proprioception. I’ve now been telling stories for 15 years, helping to build a culture of peace and a more plural society, and showing that disability does not rule out creativity.

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British Council – Mexico

Art and disability: an agent of change in Mexico

Our Arts and Disability programme has accompanied the development of a new movement in Mexico.

A man sitting on the floor with arms extended and papers scattered on the floor.

Just a few words, by the UK Theatre Company, StammerMouth, created by Nye Russell-Thompson. Photos by Liliana Velasquez.

The Arts and Disability programme has accompanied the development of the movement and its cultural agents. 

The pandemic arrived into everyone’s home like an uninvited friend. It settled on the couch for months and, as I write this, it’s still around. There has been a pause in several of our programmes, including Arts and Disability, our flagship project that since 2018 has been supporting British and Mexican disabled artist reach new audiences. For the past four years, the programme has witnessed the development of a growing community and movement, which we’ve supported through:

– International showcasing: giving practitioners access to international platforms/audiences, as well as works. In Mexico we launched Trazando Posibilidades, a festival held in 2019 in Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco. The festival gathered several artists and welcomed delegates from across the Americas, from Argentina, Canada and the UK. In the UK, we continued to work closely with Unlimited, sending delegates from Mexico in 2018 and 2020.

– Capacity building: development of technical skills through a series of workshops.

– Research: developing resources to help the sector improve its accessibility in spaces (through A Puertas Abiertas, a manual on how to create accessible cultural spaces) and through the implementation of Relaxed Performances (Relaxed Performances, an Accessibility Protocol in Spanish).

– New art: providing ongoing support for the co-production of new work in theatre, dance, audio-visual, and new media.

As a result of these collective efforts, the British Council in Mexico has been able, in the past four years, to collaborate with more than 200 artists and 50 organizations and carry out 67 major activities reaching an audience of over 45,000 people.

The arrival of COVID-19 brought limitations to the programme but at the same time allowed us to explore new opportunities. Working with partners, we create a new space for collaboration, creation, and reflection through the Seminar From Inclusion to Interpellation: Scene, Disability and Politics, that explored the need of the arts and culture sectors to work on inclusion in new creative ways, particularly through digital means. Over the course of four months, Cultura UNAM;17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos;Take me somewhere (an advisory committee of artists with disabilities) and the British Council in Mexico brought together institutions from over 12 countries, 50 participants and 18,200 spectators to share our visions for change.

Mariana Gándara, Executive Coordinator of the Ingmar Bergman Extraordinary Chair (cinema and theatre) at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) and member of the seminar planning committee, reflects on the experience: “Months ago, at a meeting to plan the seminar, I heard for the first time the use of the term interpellation, as part of the passionate defence of accessibility made by both Benjamin Mayer and Beatriz Miranda from 17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos. Both argued against the current institutional opposition to work towards inclusion. Benjamín and Beatriz, curators of the seminar, were emphatic about the political and ethical needs to use interpellation as the axis of their work. The argument was simple, but powerful: inclusion is an invitation to participate in normality; interpellation the possibility of dismantling it.”

“Normality: Who does it belong to?”, asks Gándara when assessing the impact of the seminar on her understanding of accessibility issues in the cultural sector. “What systems of oppression sustain its practices? Although institutions may be well-intentioned, these conversations have instigated a parallel form of learning, clearly showing the gap between diverse communities and the public policies that control our daily lives.” She concludes that “without asking for permission, interpellation has filtered into daily lives. Where subtitles and Mexican sign language did not previously exist, they are now essential. The advisory board, comprising disabled artists, defines and steers the seminar. It feels like a watershed moment.”

The seminar allowed to identify key new voices in the sector. COVID’s arrival has forced us to revisit standard practises, which means there’s a renewed opportunity to support wider systemic change where these diverse voices find a space.

A woman dancing on stage. A blue, patterned light shines on her from the front, casting her shadow against the back wall.
A man signing and talking to a microphone on stage. An image is projected onto him and the back wall, creating dramatic shadows.

Trazando Posibilidades, seminar held in Guadalajara, Mexico, 2019. Photos by Liliana Velasquez.

Lorena Martinez Mier is Arts Project Manager at British Council in Mexico, and leads on our work in arts and disabilities in the Americas.
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Discreantes – Mexico

DISCREANTES

An alternative way of assuming precariousness

Image still from the 2019 documentary 'Metodologia alternativa para asumir la precariedad'. Pedro Miranda, Maricarmen Graue and Edgar Lacolz stand and sit together, each with their heads bowed smelling the leaves of a plant.

Image extracted from documentary “Metodologia alternativa para asumir la precariedad”, Mexico City, 2020-2021. Courtesy Edgar Eduardo González del Castillo, Colectivo Discreantes.

An emerging interdisciplinary collective of Mexican artists with different disabilities who come together to think of alternative ways of overcoming precariousness through their artistic production and creation.

Several disabled professional artists convened in Mexico City in July 2018 at the invitation of 17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos. At this initial meeting we decided to call ourselves “Discreantes,” a collective whose current members include Maricarmen Graue, a blind cellist, Edgar Lacolz, a writer in a wheelchair, and Pedro Miranda, a blind visual artist. 

The following year we decided to join forces and pool ideas to develop an ambitious, multidisciplinary project awarded by Programa de Apoyo a la Producción e Investigación en Arte, Medios y Discapacidad (PAPIAM 2019), supported by the British Council Mexico and Centro Nacional de las Artes (CENART). PAPIAM is a grant for projects by disabled or non-disabled artists linking art and multimedia in different creative fields: music, visual arts, literature, cinema, and performance. We set out to bring together our experience in producing socially engaged work as independent and established Mexican artists.

Our project, called Metodología alternativa para asumir la precariedad (A Different Way of Overcoming Precariousness) is a documentary that exposes precarious situations faced by disabled artists on a daily basis. As we raised questions such as “What is at stake for disabled artists working in precarious situations?”, “What tools must disabled artists use, invent or adapt in order to produce art while living in a state of precariousness?”, and “How does this precariousness manifest itself, and how does ‘Discreantes’ deal with it?”, we wanted to highlight individual practices and collective productions.

The idea is to show audiences  how – through situations considered to be economically, physically or creatively precarious – it is possible to develop an intellectually stimulating art project, to adapt tools, and to turn things around to create a cultural product. The documentary shows that disability, similarly to precariousness, can spark creativity and cultural initiatives, or lead to new tools that make an impact on the art scene as a whole. Without downplaying the policies that put disabled people into precarious situations, we channel this precariousness into creativity and protest.

Guided by this critical reflection, in 2020, Pedro Miranda, one of the Discreantes members, invited more disabled artists to come together before the pandemic in a collective called No es Igual (It is not the same), clearly expressing the impact of precarity in our lives in a public manifesto. In this solidarity effort, this collective is a support group for its members, from producing podcast interviews to shed light on its artists, to raising funds for specific health and family matters. While the pandemic has presented a variety of difficulties in the lives of disabled artists, it has made clearer the possibility of transforming precariousness into a methodology to create and produce art. 

Photo of Edgar Lacolz, Maricarmen Graue, and Pedro Miranda at CENART looking pensive between several cylindrical blue pillars. Edgar is seated in a wheelchair, Maricarmen is standing with no mobility device, and Pedro is on the right holding a white cane.

Edgar Lacolz, Maricarmen Graue and Pedro Miranda at CENART,  Mexico,  2019. Photo: Liliana Velasquez.

NO ES IGUAL Collective: In the face of contingency

Due to the epidemiological events that are hitting the world and specifically Mexico, artists with diverse disabilities, from various disciplines, based in different parts of the country, have gathered with a single purpose: to express ourselves with regard to the situation faced by our guild.

We have seen with alarm how many of the events scheduled for the coming months, even up to the end of the year, have been called off due to the cancellation of festivals plus cultural and artistic events, not to mention the closure of theatres, museums, and other artistic platforms. We are not emerging artists. We are a group of artists with diverse recognized trajectories in local, national, and international forums.

This has placed us in a situation of greater vulnerability: as persons with disability we are considered as a minority, and being artists – with disabilities – we are yet in another minority. This means that today we face a more severe crisis due to the events known to all owing to COVID-19.

We are at risk since many of us have compromised immune systems, and let us not forget the lack of work during this situation. Likewise, we see with dismay how vital information is denied to us at the moment due to the inaccessibility of the means by which it is transmitted. How can the Deaf listen to news updates? How can the blind see infographics? How are people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities being informed about the pandemic and the measures being taken? What kind of information is being received by people with severe or multiple disabilities?

These reasons are enough to bring us together and make ourselves heard on social networks and other digital and analogue media so that we may receive the support we need to endure this long quarantine, and its aftermath, with dignity.

As we are confronted with this reality, we want to inform you of the risks we are facing in the current lockdown, both as disabled persons and as artists, and we request:

*The necessary support to which we are entitled, so that we can continue living our lives as citizens of this country. 

*Measures to allow us to make our way through this situation, both economically and socially.

*That people with disabilities and their families be guaranteed access to information in ways that take into account their different conditions.

*Access to services that allow people with disabilities to receive necessary care as needed.

As active members of this society, we commit ourselves to:

*Collaborating in these moments of crisis through our artistic and cultural work, to the greatest extent possible using available channels.

*Pursuing the production and artistic activities we are dedicated to, to the extent that the contingency allows, and to return with greater energy when the situation stabilizes.

*Contribute to the community on the basis of our knowledge and personal experience.

We, the undersigned artists, are certain that as long as our rights as individuals and artists are guaranteed and that we have the necessary support networks, we can come out of this situation together.

Ekiwah Adler, poet

Cristian Arias, performing artist

Erika Bernal, performing artist

Maricarmen Camarena, musical artist

Luis Castro, performing artist

Edgar (Lacolz) González, writer

Maricarmen Graue, musical artist

Martín Valerio Jácome, musical artist

Pedro Miranda Gijón, visual artist

Jorge Olvera Rodríguez, visual artist

Jesús Rodríguez, performing artist

Sara Villanueva, musical artist

Shino Watabe, visual artist

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