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Festival shines light on disabled arts

Dylan Amirio

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, February 22, 2018  /  08:38 am
Festival shines light on disabled arts

People with disabilities are often assumed to be unable to fully participate in their daily lives. (Shutterstock/File)

The UK/ID Festival will return this year with a special program aimed at promoting the works of disabled artists, which will run in tandem with the upcoming Asian Para Games in Jakarta.

To bring the program to fruition, the British Council is joining hands with Indonesian artists, like-minded corporations, government bodies such as the Education and Culture Ministry, local disability organizations, as well as two prominent foundations from the United Kingdom.

The planned showcases will feature a range art forms, including singing, musicals, visual art, dancing and literary programs — all conducted by artists with disabilities.

Going on the concept that “art humanizes humans”, British Council arts director Adam Pushkin said “making some noise” was central to the advancement of inclusivity for disabled artists, as the Asian Para Games both challenge preconceptions as well as promote positive images of the disabled.

Preparations for this year’s UK/ID Festival kicked off in September 2017, and one of the British foundations consulted in the project was Epic Arts, which seeks to promote the arts as a form of expression and empowerment to bring people with and without disabilities together.

Epic Arts has been working in Cambodia since 2001 and plans to collaborate with the British Council for the upcoming Asian Para Games, which will be held following the Asian Games. It is scheduled to take place on Oct. 8-16, with up to 4,000 participating athletes from 13 countries.

Programs the foundation has worked on in Cambodia include inclusive arts courses in contemporary dance, theater, art, music and literacy by using and teaching Cambodian Sign Language.

A particular successful event Epic Arts staged in Cambodia last year was a performance showcase called Come Back Home, which included contemporary dances and the screening of a documentary about the Khmer Rouge era from 1975 to 1979.

Referring to Paralympics Games as global cornerstones of disability rights, the foundation’s co-director, Anthony Evans, feels the arts also needed to be showcased at large sporting events to emphasize that a disability was not a hindrance to the arts and sports.

“People even from outside of Indonesia will descend upon the Asian Para Games, thus providing the disabled arts with an opportunity to showcase on a wider scale. Events such as the Para Games should only result in the unity of both the disabled and nondisabled,” he said during a recent visit to the British Council’s Jakarta office.

As part of Epic Arts’ ethos, the arts will bring an additional cultural context to the sporting event. To effectively fulfill this ambition, the participation of government officials should be encouraged as they are the ones who can make a big difference in sustaining disability programs beyond the games itself, Evans said.

“The Asian Para Games could only be the beginning of all this; it’s already a fantastic way of celebrating the capabilities of the disabled,” he added.

The British Council has also enlisted the help of Liverpoolbased disability arts organization, DaDaFest, which has done exceptional work in the United Kingdom for promoting disability and deaf arts.

DaDaFest founder and arts director Ruth Gould outlined during her visit to Jakarta that it was crucial for disability arts to gain recognition by connecting them to the parties that could make it possible.

Social media platforms, she added, must also be prioritized to get the word out. Therefore, partnerships with the media are also encouraged.

“I think in terms of the infrastructure [to accommodate the disabled arts], it has to be carefully thought out with many parties, so that it can be done feasibly. That is why connecting with the relevant parties to do so is needed,” Gould said.

“Arts projects made for the Asian Para Games would also be about giving access to opportunities among both disabled and nondisabled artists. You [shouldn’t] underestimate the quality of the disabled arts because you’ll be amazed at what some artists are capable of.”