Over the last few years I’ve had increasing issues with pain and fatigue. I’ve come to appreciate how crucial rest and pacing can be, but that doesn’t mean I’m always good at putting them into practice.
Over the last two weeks a festival I curated has been in full swing at Battersea Arts Centre (BAC). It was a celebration of BAC’s commitment to becoming a fully Relaxed Venue. The theme of the festival was Rest and Resistance, but my reluctance to take a break sometimes meant it might’ve been more appropriate to call it ‘Resisting Rest’.
Today, though, I’m in bed and taking it very easy! The programme ended yesterday with a big inclusive party called The Restful Rebels Ball.
It was an amazing night and a perfect end to a glorious but busy two weeks. I danced, wiggled about and shouted ‘biscuit’ surrounded by lots of incredible artists and friends.
I’ve never programmed a whole festival before and it was a privilege to have a chance to put it together. I mixed up work that has inspired me with residencies by companies that excite me, and we held events to encourage discussion of how barriers to the arts could be broken down further.
I didn’t get to see everything and it felt hard to miss shows I desperately wanted to see, but I also knew that I did have to embody the theme of rest if I wanted to make it safely to the end of the run. Some performances have been recorded and I can’t wait to catch up with what I missed. We also filmed a couple of key discussions which we’ll make available when we can.
Looking back at the last two weeks these are some of the moments that have stayed with me.
The Buzz: Rolling into the Bee’s Knees, BAC’s play space for under fives, which was buzzing with delighted toddlers exploring the amazing ultra violet world that artist Tarik Elmoutawakil had created for them as part of his residency.
The Response: Reading tweets from people who’d enjoyed the art we’d selected which made me feel proud, not just personally, but proud of disabled artists for making work that communicated experiences in such uncompromising, creative and powerful ways. I felt particularly fortunate to be in a position to present The Vacuum Cleaners’ iconic and moving piece ‘Mental’ for its last ever show.
#Mental is such a moving, gentle, clever, intimate and an awe-inspiring piece. @vacuumcleaner is such a great artist and a charismatic performer. I'm so glad he makes work. Thank you. 🤗💕 #restandresistance
— Jamal Gerald (@JamiBoii) March 8, 2019
The Discussion: Seven years ago I went to see Francesca Martinez’s show ‘What The F**k is Normal’ at the Tricycle Theatre. I wrote then that I’d “come away from it a little more accepting of myself and a little less worried about being normal.” On the first weekend of the festival Francesca and I sat down, together with other disabled artists and allies, to chat about our experiences.
I’m lucky to get the opportunity to speak out to the entertainment industry a lot but there are far fewer opportunities for disabled artists to connect with each other. This was such a simple event and it shouldn’t have felt radical – the fact that it did means it needs to happen more often.
The Laughter: I hosted two nights of glorious creativity with the brilliant Henrietta Imoreh. The first was ‘Comedy Without Victims’, a night of stand-up and shared laughter where we guaranteed no one would get picked on, audience and comedians alike. And the second was last night’s glorious party. Both events felt special to me and while in some ways they were very different, with one focussing on comedy and the other on music, what they shared was an atmosphere where everyone was encouraged to be themselves exactly as they are.
The Friendship & Solidarity: While we were preparing for the festival we got the devastating news that the incredible artist and activist Katherine Araniello had died. It was Katherine’s work that inspired me to be an artist, and it challenged me to be bolder, more political and less polite. Katherine is responsible for many of my all-time favourite creative interventions – ‘Amazing Art’, ‘Disability Art Is Dead’ and ‘Bad Mascots’. She is also almost solely responsible for all my chihuahua tics. We dedicated the festival to Katherine and remembered her at key moments throughout it.
The festival was made possible by the energy and skill of many incredible people, artists, volunteers and members of the BAC team. It’s been a marvellous opportunity, and we’ve learnt loads. This is the start of BAC’s commitment to taking an embedded inclusive approach to everything it does.
I’m really excited by what happens next.
Right now though I’m going to enjoy the post-event glow and some well earned rest.