Thursday 11 May 2023

Tony Heaton on the Work of Disabled Artists

Tony, your practice is widely established and your work is recognised internationally. However, the work by disabled artists is too often restricted to the community they represent and struggle to reach the mainstream art debate. Do you agree with this thought? If so, what are in your opinion the reasons of this phenomenon?

Well, perhaps the question is, why does the so-called ‘mainstream’ marginalise disabled artists and actually disabled people generally? Should we be forced to knock on those closed doors or should the ‘mainstream’ be opening up and looking beyond their elitist and frankly conservative narrow view of what is art and who makes it, and extending their intellect to engage with disabled artists and disability arts. If they did they would find some amazing work. Ultimately it's about power and rank, disabled people are marginalised and oppressed through poverty, lack of access to goods and services, limited access to transport and the built infrastructure and prejudice. The ‘mainstream’ were not interested in showing or collecting the work of disabled artists, this is the main reason that I initiated NDACA (National Disability Arts Collection and Archive), because if we as disabled people don't make it happen for ourselves then it won’t. NDACA will help to show and promote that history, a history that would have otherwise been lost because that work is not in ‘mainstream’ collections. The mainstream are also reluctant to help us into positions of power and rank, there are very few disabled people promoted onto decision-making boards or in arts institutions, this needs to change, but those with power are always reluctant to change, just as there is institutionalised racism there is an inherent ableism throughout society.

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photograph of Tony Heaton in front of the sculpture of a map of Great Britain made of wheelchair parts of one single NHS wheelchair (Great Britain form a Wheelchair, 1994), photo by Hilary Porter via

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