From Identity Politics to Dismodernism- Changes in the Social Meaning of Disability Art
Solvang, Per Koren
Faculty of Health Sciencies Oslo University College Oslo, Norway
Disability art emerged out of disabled people's political movements in the US and UK in the early 1980s. Cultural expressions became a part of an ongoing activity to create unity and pride among disabled people. In this process, art has gained an important position in the identity politics of the disability movement, in a manner comparable to the relevance of arts and culture in the feminist movement and in black people's movement.
The cultural theorist Lennard Davis has called for the end of identity politics and the beginning of dismodernism. Disability must be seen as a lens to understand the world and not primarily as a collective identity to identify with. The paper tries to shed light on how disability art affiliated artists enact their positions as disabled and as artists in this climate of post identity politics.
A total of 30 disability art affiliated artists in the UK and US have been interviewed, for the most part working in the visual and performing arts.
The artists interviewed believe that disabled performers can provide an arena for identification and aspects of a shared culture, but they see disability culture as relevant only to a small portion of disabled people. However, the idea of a common culture is important for those who identify, and it represents a potential for those who do not, for example people impaired in adult years.
There is a strong idea among the artists of two phases in the development of disability art. The first phase is closely related to the emerging disability rights movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The idea of the present situation as a second phase of disability art is characterised by wanting to perform and show for a mainstream audience, combine disability issues and non-disability issues, and finally; professionalism and more subtle artwork are replacing the in your face cabarets and stand up. But this is hampered by disability as culturally de-valued and the fact that art production by disabled artists tends to be medicalized as therapy.