Should Disability Art be considered just art?

How should we define disability and its relation to art? How can we include more artists with disabilities in mainstream art? These were the issues explored and critically discussed by prominent actors from disability and arts sectors at the 21st Policy Breakfast on ‘Inclusive Arts: Exploring Disability Arts in Bangladesh’, held on 12 December 2019 by the British Council in partnership with Dhaka Theatre and Institute of Informatics and Development (IID).

The discussion opened with exploring the ideas of disability and disability arts from a conceptual standpoint. It was emphasized that any form of art, whether created by persons with disabilities or able-bodied persons, should be considered as pure art. When artists with disabilities create art, the focus should be on the artistic aspect of creation and not tagged just as disable arts. However, to ensure the inclusion of disabled artists in mainstream art, proper strategical planning is required when executing an art project to facilitate persons with disability.

In addition to focusing on artists with disabilities, a lively discussion also took place among the participants regarding the audience with disabilities. When asked whether the focus should be put on the artists or audience with disabilities to facilitate inclusion, Nahin Idris, Project Manager of Arts at the British Council mentioned that it should go both ways. He pointed out that to ensure the inclusion of the disability communities in mainstream art, it is not enough to just think about the artists. The audience must also be taken into careful consideration. It is crucial to make sure that both the artists and the audience with disabilities have all the technical support available at the venue for performing and attending. He also said that when necessary, support should also be provided to build the capacity of both the persons with disability and the able-bodied persons who work with them in this whole endeavour.

Nasir Uddin Yousuf Bachchu, renowned film and theatre director and the co-founder of Dhaka Theatre said that the inclusion of disability community in arts can have a tremendous social impact. Drawing on the experience of producing a theatre play called “A Different Romeo and Juliet” with 13 disabled actors in 2016, he enthusiastically pointed out that it not only opened up a new horizon for the participating artists, it also encouraged the disabled audience to visit more artistic and cultural activities.

Khadiza Nazneen, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Social Welfare highlighted that the government has already taken up several initiatives over the past few years to make the disability community more inclusive in society. Encouraging the British Council’s new project ‘Disability Arts’, she also said that initiative such as this will surely help us to crawl out the current state of exclusion.

Tom Miscioscia, Bangladesh Country Director Bangladesh at British Council concluded the event by thanking all participants. The dialogue was moderated by Syeed Ahamed, Chief Executive Officer of IID. Among the others, Vashkar Bhattacharjee, Program Manager and Head of YPSA’s Information, Communication, Technology & Resource Centre on Disabilities (IRCD), Anika Rahman Lipy, Centre for Disability in Development (CDD), spoke at the discussion.

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