Studying Disability Arts and Culture


It is clear from my research that the visual representation of disability is broadly absent from visual representation and connoted almost exclusively through the prism of impairment. Of course there are many disabled artists who counter this view such as Carly James and Katherine Araniello but their work is often overlooked by the wider established artistic community and as Paul Darke argues (see here) neutralised. I want to know more about disabled art and culture notwithstanding this absence and failure, and so purchased Petra Kupper’s book (2004). So these are my notes and thoughts from the book.

First impressions
The book is structured like to “how to” manual and opens with a section on setting up for a disability equality session. But while this is not relevant to my needs I could see just by looking through the index that it should cover some of the issues I am interested in such as the intesectionality between queer and disability issues.

Languages of disability

  • Unstable identities ie disability is a social construction with culturally specific identities
  • Living languages – mean such identities change over time
  • Normate – Garland-Thompson (ie non disabled)
  • Design and language choice – eg “coming out” as a queer or disabled person if your impairment is hidden
  • Neurodiversity – perspectives on the breath of mental perspectives with some labelled pathological

Discourses of disability

  • Discourse and power – language can define the way we think about things both intentionally and unintentionally eg
    • People with disabilities
    • Disabled people
  • Ableism- intentionally or otherwise disadvantaging disabled people eg the medical model of disability defines disadvantage due to impairment rather than the lack of social recognition of the needs of someone with impairment. The social model counters this view.
  • Queer studies/disability studies – have strong associations as both share common forms of experience through discrimination based on exclusive social norms.
  • The disability arts ghetto – is where problems relating to emasculation and appropriation of disability arts take place and so disability arts loses its essence

Disability culture

  • Living cultures – disability culture is emerging and changing

Part II:

  • Exploring some of the forms of disability arts and the issues raised within them

Discourses at work and play

  • Separation is a historical feature of disability – film, art, poetry, writing
  • Ekphrasis (ie, art used to convey the deeper symbolism by means of a separate medium).
  • Asylum porn – ie popular photography subject but doesn’t say anything of the experience of being an inmate

Freak shows and the theatre

  • The freak show as heritage – eg Mat Fraser’s Sealboy says something about freak shows and his experience rather than his impairment
  • Performance as a way into research history
  • Both of these challenge the separateness and difference traditional freak shows amplify

Disabled dance and dancerly bodies

Dance has a central role in disability culture because of issues around:

  • the body
  • beauty
  • movement
  • strength and weakness
  • looking and staring
  • the individual and the group (eg choreography)
  • and its association with high culture eg ballet


This book primarily gave me a chance to see the work of some other disabled artists working on related themes I am exploring in this MA, although many focus on the disabled body.

However the most fundamental thought I have been left with is that my work is almost wholly visually based and that it would be good to include a physical work as this would stretch me and could be accessed by people who can’t see.

Kupper, P. (2014) Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction, Published by Palgrave Macmillan


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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