Post by Dr. Bethan Evans
On Friday 21st November, Ciara Kierans and I organised a workshop on Disability, Arts and Wellbeing on behalf of the University’s Centre for Health, Arts and Science (CHARTS). This was the second in a series of workshops funded by The Wellcome Trust on behalf of the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research. We were delighted that we could hold the Liverpool workshop in collaboration with DaDaFest, an innovative Disability and Deaf Arts organisation based in Liverpool which works across the North West, Nationally and Internationally.
The Medical Humanities is an interdisciplinary field that brings perspectives from the arts, humanities and social sciences to questions about medicine, health and well-being. It is a field which often involves a diverse range of perspectives, including researchers, practitioners, patients and artists. Recently there has been a move to develop a more Critical Medical Humanities through engaging with activists and critical theory to question the politics and power of medicine and ideas of health, illness, disability and embodiment.
As a Critical Geographer who works on questions of embodiment and health, I see many parallels between the medical humanities and geography: both involve questioning the relationships between nature and culture (and what we see as ‘natural’) and challenging unequal power relations between different bodies. Importantly, the move to more Critical Medical Humanities has also involved questioning the power and positions from which medical humanities knowledge is produced (who is involved in the production of this knowledge and who might be excluded). This is reflected more broadly in the social sciences and humanities in moves to more participatory models of research (e.g. participatory geographies) and the growth of the para-academic movement.
It is in light of all of these things that we were keen to host the workshop in collaboration with DaDaFest, to involve people from lots of different disciplines, to hold it in a non-academic space (the workshop took place at The Bluecoat Gallery) and to involve artists. The day involved presentations from people working in different fields researching diverse topics which relate to disability, art, wellbeing and medical power. For example, there were presentations on racism and the historical use of slaves in American medical research, on ideas about ethnicity in organ donation, on dis/ability and sexuality, on the representation of PTSD in romantic novels, on arts practices for wellbeing, on bioart, on cinema and memory and much more. The full workshop programme is available here.
All of these presentations were fascinating, and were followed by what was the highlight of the day for me, the final session when we were lucky enough to have the Artistic Director of DaDaFest, Ruth Gould speak to us about the history of DaDaFest and give us a guided tour of one of the current exhibitions ‘The Art of the Lived Experiment’ and artist Rachel Gadsden talk to us about her work with disabled artists in the Middle East (there is a video about this work available here) and give us a tour of the exhibition which comes from this work ‘Al Noor- Fragile Vision’. This was an excellent way to end the workshop and really made clear the value of breaking down boundaries between academics, artists and activists. These exhibitions are excellent and I highly recommend that you take time to visit them and see them for yourself.