We need to listen to the quieter voices

Weaving, Raana Salman

Weaving, Raana Salman

Today is the start of Learning Disability Week 2014, the annual campaigning and awareness drive run by Mencap.

This year’s campaign week celebrates people overcoming adversity, prejudice and ignorance and it’s a welcome moment to focus on the positive amid the social and political inequity faced by people with learning disabilities (you can follow events and issues on Twitter using the hashtag #LDWeek14).

I’m thinking specifically of just two issues I’ve recently reported on; the needless death of young Connor Sparrowhawk and the consequent #justiceforLB campaign, and the related fact that people with learning disabilities feel ignored by politicians.

So today’s post is linked to something I’ve blogged here before, in a piece on a thought-provoking arts project run by the charity Creative Minds. There is growing – although unfortunately as yet not mainstream – debate about “learning disability arts”, and the quality of work being produced by people with learning disabilities.

Firstly, I want to share some of my sister Raana‘s artwork.

Obvious bias and sibling pride aside, so many friends and family have been genuinely surprised and impressed – and no, not in a patronising way – when I’ve revealed the creation they’re admiring has been crafted by my sister. Seriously – why would I hang crap on my walls (unless from an elephant and painted by Chris Ofili)?

She may not be a conversationalist or a writer, but pictures speak a thousand words and what she’s made is bold and beautiful. That said, Raana still produces her signature lozenge-shaped bullet cars and blobby, squat people (the hair is always spikey – a hangover from her boyband-loving days…these pieces are most definitely not on my walls), but here’s a taster of why I love what she does:

Mosaic collage, Raana Salman

Mosaic collage, Raana Salman

Felt work, Raana Salman

Felt work, Raana Salman

Detail from landscape, Raana Salman

Detail from landscape, Raana Salman

Pottery, Raana Salman

Pottery, Raana Salman

Church, Raana Salman

Church, Raana Salman

Secondly, while thinking about an art-related post, I came across some powerful pieces of work produced by members of Outside In. Based at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, the project is a platform for artists “who find it difficult to access the art world either because of mental health issues, disability, health, social circumstance or because their work does not conform to what is normally consider as art”.

The pieces here are by artists who happen to have learning disabilities.

Aeroplanes & Spades, by Manuel Bonifacio

Aeroplanes & Spades, by Manuel Bonifacio

Musicians, by Michelle Roberts

Musicians, by Michelle Roberts

Hippo, by Neville  Jermyn

Hippo, by Neville Jermyn

Harry Potter Books, by Josie Goddard

Harry Potter Books, by Josie Goddard

The works should trigger some questions about “outsider art” and the gap between the treatment of and attitudes towards people who have learning disabilities and those who do not. What the Outside In project calls “the idea of there being an ‘us’ and ‘them’”. As one of the project’s award-winning artists, Carlo Keshishian, believes that “Outside In can function as a mouthpiece to project the voices of quieter people.”

That’s what we need – more people listening to and acting on the wishes of those whose voices (and by voice I mean profile, choice, representation, status) are not as loud as those in the “mainstream”.

And finally, take another look at the photographs of the artwork on this page. Ask yourself this, if you didn’t know, how many of the pieces would you genuinely have thought were produced by people with learning disabilities?

* I can’t end this post without signposting you to the colourful creations here by “industrious artist” Connor Sparrowhawk, aka LB, currently being sold in postcard and print form to raise funds for legal representation at the inquest. Connor died in a specialist NHS unit last year and the #JusticeforLB campaign is pushing for answers about his death and raising awareness about learning disability – this letter signed by more than 500 people, explains the issues and necessary action.

Colour, Connor Sparrowhawk

Colour, Connor Sparrowhawk

About Saba Salman

Saba Salman is a social affairs journalist, commissioning editor and a regular contributor to The Guardian. She also edited the blog for the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, a UK-wide association for social care providers, for three years.
This entry was posted in Learning disability, Music & arts, Social care, Social exclusion, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to We need to listen to the quieter voices

  1. Kara Teka says:

    Look at these artists at Heart and Sold as well. People with intellectual differences communicate through art just as much as anybody else.

    http://www.heartandsold.org.uk/artists

  2. Drew says:

    Art is a place were no one stands above anyone else. I love it because it brings society together when they would have otherwise stayed apart with stereotypes and bias

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