Intersectional Disability Arts Manifesto by Alice Sheppard

Disability is more than the deficit of diagnosis. It is an aesthetic, a series of intersecting cultures, and a creative force.

 

Drawing on the language used by South African disability activists, the North American disability rights movement proclaims “Nothing About Us, Without Us.”  

Indeed.

As a queer disabled artist of colour working in a similar context, I declare, “For Us, By Us” as the guiding principle of my work. I do not prioritize or erase any facet of my identity in my work.

My work is neither educational nor transformative for others.  It does not reiterate or confirm familiar stereotypes of disability. I am driven to create art that connects to the beautiful complicated histories and cultures of disability, race, gender, and sexuality.   I do not work in a vacuum; I am part of a complicated, contentious, exciting community. I want my work to continue our conversations, honour our pasts, and open a vista to our futures.

I hold myself accountable to the following questions:  

What does art look like that does not justify itself or the existence of disabled people?

What are the intersections of disability and race in dance?

What do racialized disability aesthetics look and feel like?  

How do we move to realize them?   

What do I know of the cultures associated with my racial and ethnic heritages when they are not tied to racism?  

And how is my racial and ethnic heritage connected to my disability history?  My queerness?  My gender?  

How do disability and race encounter technology and design?

I do not always engage each question in every piece, but these questions have anchored me in my work.

Here is my stake: Disability is more than the deficit of diagnosis.  It is an aesthetic, a series of intersecting cultures, and a creative force.