How are you feeling about your upcoming exhibition?
I’m really excited and pleased to have the opportunity to show my work for British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD), and Respond UK, a charity providing psychotherapy for people with learning disabilities.
What was the process of the development of your idea for Invisible People? For example, has it been in the works for a while? Has your vision been clear from the start?
The idea for the show was born out of my experience as a parent of young person with Down’s Syndrome, and my work as artist in residence at BILD and Respond UK.
As a parent I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to get people to recognise and value my daughter. People don’t tend to see her for the wonderful, lovely, funny, serious person she is; they see her disability.
It’s hard for people to see the isolation that comes from having a learning disability. Lack of personal independence, lack of friends, lack of real paid jobs.
Just five per cent of adults with learning disabilities are employed. It’s outrageously low. Beth’s college has a 65 per cent rate of employment after college – it shows what can be done.
I’ve often felt my concerns for my daughter are invisible and not taken seriously, and I’ve wanted to do something about it.
One way of doing this is exhibiting Beth’s work. She draws all the time and I love her work; it’s full of colour and joy.
I want people to see and appreciate my daughter’s difference and her abilities – like any other mum.
From experience I know this is how a lot other parents, relatives, anyone that is close to someone with a learning disability feels.
So I’m showing the work by other artists too with learning disabilities. I want to give them the chance to be seen and appreciated, and be part of a creative community.
I was commissioned by BILD and Respond UK to create a set of images to highlight the trauma experienced by people with learning disabilities and autistic people.
We worked as a group: experts in the legal system, the care system, care commissioning, health, education and people with lived experience. We discussed how people with learning disabilities and Autistic people are affected by trauma. My role as artist in residence was to observe and then illustrate the concepts considered.
In the process of working out my drawings I’d sent the illustrations to the group, creating another layer of thought and dialogue.
Sometimes comments came back like ‘I don’t think blue works’, and at other times it was a detailed analysis of the text and imagery.
I was drawn to this work on both a professional and personal level. As an artist, I’m interested in the ways in which art can effect change, and as a mother to a young adult with Down’s Syndrome, I have first-hand experience of her trauma and I am acutely aware that systems to help people with learning disabilities must change.
In the seminars there was always someone who told their experience of trauma. These stories had the most impact on my understanding. Some were so painful they were difficult to hear, like the experiences of a man who’d been through a horrific time at the hands of the care system. He’d experienced extreme bullying, loneliness, and total social isolation. Without sensitive care, people with learning disabilities and autistic people are often traumatised by the systems that are set up to help them.
I realised that the exhibition needed to have the same involvement as the discussion groups of people with lived experience. I invited Superstar Arts in Worthing and Rocket Artists from Brighton to collaborate.
We held workshops and created images to print with ceramicist Brigit Connolly. Rocket Artists and Superstar Arts were invited to submit work for prints. I wanted the exhibition to mean something to local people and by involving local groups I hope to bring the community together.
In terms of representing how marginalised groups experience trauma, what is your overarching goal for the perception of this exhibition?
I would like sensitivity shown to people with learning disabilities and an understanding that some people behave in unexpected ways that might be due to trauma. We need to have compassion and understanding.
What impact has your personal experience with trauma had on the production of this exhibition?
I know what it is like to be traumatised by procedures that are not fully understood and how it can make you behave erratically.
My daughter was in the ICU for six weeks. It was a very scary time for all her family and terrifying for Beth because of her limited understanding of what was going on. It required a huge amount of patience love and constant communication to get through it.
What does the Invisible People exhibition mean to you on both a personal and professional level?
It’s very emotional for all the reasons I have described. I’m really grateful to Worthing Museum and Gallery who have been so open and enthusiastic about supporting this project. It makes me feel positive about the future. I’m very excited to share the work and hope everyone will enjoy it. I asked my daughter how she felt and she said: ‘Maybe people might like my work. That makes me happy.’
I think that’s probably about right for me too.