Today was an unusual day. I went back to work after work. Now why would I do that? Well, I was invited by Sally Davis, the CEO of BT Wholesale, (and BT’s Disability Champion) to a viewing with a difference: The Art of Disability and Diversity, organised on BT Wholesale premises with the assistance of Gig-Arts.
I’d had a long day: things are fairly hectic right now, and so a part of me wanted to go home straight after work. But I’d said I’d go, so I did. And I was really glad I did. [Thank you, Sally].
Why? Three reasons.
One, the art on display was really good. All of it. I was particularly taken with the works of Esther Appleyard, Alison Lapper, David Downes and Mike Fryer. Mike Fryer’s choice and juxtaposition of colour was arresting; similarly, there was something truly captivating about David Downes’ use of light and shade in his trademark urbanscapes. Alison Lapper, whom I first came across as the subject of Marc Quinn’s Pregnant (exhibited on a plinth in Trafalgar Square) had some stunning works, particularly a large scale Marilyn Munroe-esque portrait of a woman. But to me the highlight of the evening was discovering the works of Esther Appleyard, really brilliant stuff.
Two, the artists were all present; they had the opportunity to address all of us, and they then mingled with the guests all evening. [To be precise, Mike Fryer was not there, he was still in the Ukraine, but his wife and niece were present]. It was fascinating to hear why they did what they did, what each artist’s particular muse and focus was.
Three, the art was affordable, ranging from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand pounds. [Yes, I know that today a few hundred pounds buys you a bank or two, but then you have to worry about your asset being nationalised forthwith and entirely worthless to you. Whereas the artwork on display, albeit national treasures, carries no such risk of forfeiture].
As I said, I was particularly taken with the work of Esther Appleyard. Her work is brave and forthright, taking the issue of genetic screening head-on from the perspective of a disabled person. As in the case of Distance Not Applicable (pictured above) she has a series of works using the initials DNA: Diversity Not Alienation, Discovering New Alphabets, Decadent New Assortments. When talking to us, her message was clear: Are we in the business of screening people like her out? Is she not human like the rest of us?
Alison Lapper, in her comments, carried on where Esther left off: What constitutes “normal”? Is anyone a “normal” human being? If any of us knew a “normal” person, could we introduce Alison to that person?
Genetic testing is a complex subject with even more complex arguments; I am by no means an expert, and won’t pretend to be one. What Esther and Alison have reminded me is that there is more than one perspective on the argument, more than one side to be heard. And I hadn’t really heard the side of the disabled person.
Today I was in the presence of some very talented persons. Very very talented persons.The fact that they were disabled appears, if anything, to have spurred their talent on; talent that was prodigious and on display. Something we should bear in mind in time to come, as debates about the whens and hows of genetic testing evolve further.
A coda: if you’re a captain of industry and you’re reading this blog, you’re probably lost. Maybe you meant to be here instead, despite the parlous state of the markets. On the other hand, if you are a captain of industry, or even if you know someone who is the real deal, check out Gig-Arts. Their model of making the works of disabled artists available for display in boardrooms and corporate offices is worthwhile.