Extraordinary project challenged perceptions of disability and attitudes towards difference

Posted by pt91 at Feb 24, 2017 12:34 PM |
Awards winning comedian, Francesca Martinez, reflects on her involvement in a University of Leicester project that examined ‘the implications of a society that values some lives more than others’

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 24 February 2017

An extraordinary project led by the University of Leicester brought together 4 artists and 8 of the UK’s most renowned medical museums in a unique collaboration to question and challenge our attitudes towards difference with the aim of stimulating debate around the implications of a society that values some lives more than others. Through a series of ground breaking events held in museums across the UK, the project called Exceptional & Extraordinary has stimulated and shaped debate around deeply entrenched negative views of disabled people that manifest themselves in numerous ways from everyday acts of disrespect and discrimination to hate crimes.

Initiated and led by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester, Exceptional and Extraordinary was a collaborative project involving 4 artists – comedian Francesca Martinez, film-maker David Hevey, dance company Deaf Men Dancing led by Mark Smith, artist and playwright Julie McNamara – and 8 museums (the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS); the Science Museum; the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds; the Royal London Hospital Museum and Archives; Surgeons’ Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh; Museum of the Mind; Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability).  Project advisors were Tony Heaton, SHAPE and Katherine Ott, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England, Exceptional & Extraordinary was an ambitious collaborative research project that aimed to engage museum visitors, professionals in the field of biomedicine and the broader public in a reassessment of widely held assumptions surrounding physical and mental difference, disability and contemporary (often negative and discriminatory) attitudes towards disabled people.

The arts commissions that were created as part of the project, offered new ways of seeing that were used to question and stimulate public, biomedical professional and media debate around the social, cultural and ethical implications of medicalised ways of understanding difference that pervade biomedical professional practice as well as shape broader public and societal attitudes towards disability and disabled people.

Jocelyn Dodd from the University of Leicester said: “Following our previous project with Mat Fraser - Cabinet of Curiosities that won the Observer’s Ethical Award for Art and Culture in 2014 – we saw the new need to extend public debate around the persistent and troubling consequences of our negative attitudes towards difference. This latest project, Exceptional & Extraordinary, resulted in lively and provocative debates across the UK and challenged museums and medical professionals as well as the public to think differently about human diversity. As the project draws to a close, it is timely to consider the impact Exceptional & Extraordinary has had on not only the medical museums and audiences that experienced the artworks, but the artists as well.”

In a new post, released on 24 February, Francesca Martinez, reflects on this in a special guest blog for the School of Museum Studies (http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/museumstudies/).



Notes to editors:

For further information or a range of images please contact Sarah Plumb on 0116 2523757 or sp627@le.ac.uk

More about the commissioned artists:

Francesca Martinez is an award-winning wobbly comedian, actress, writer and campaigner. Since winning the Open Mic Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2000, she has toured the world and appeared in TV shows such as 'Live At The Apollo', 'The Jonathan Ross Show' and 'Extras'. Her first book 'What The **** Is Normal' was published in 2014 to critical acclaim and was nominated for two national book awards. She has recently supported Frankie Boyle on his UK tour, and is currently working on several BBC and theatre commissions. An active campaigner, she is also involved with the People's Assembly Against Austerity, the War On Welfare petition, and has helped organise the UK-wide JC4PM Tour in support of Jeremy Corbyn. Visit Francesca Martinez

Mark Smith is the founder and artistic director for Deaf Men Dancing, an innovative all male dance company, who, like Mark, are deaf. Together they have created a fusion of dance styles that incorporate sign language, creating an original aesthetic. DMD have performed internationally including DanceEast’s 1st Anniversary Gala, E4’s Battlefront, London’s 2012 Deaf Day, Candoco’s 20th Anniversary cabaret, Brighton Festival and Clin de’Oeil Deaf Art International Festival, France. DMD was commissioned by Greenwich + Dockland International Festival to create a new work called TEN that was premiered at National Paralympic Day featuring Mayor of London’s Liberty Festival 2014. Mark was invited by Sadler’s Wells Theatre to premiere DMD’s new work called Hear! Hear! at =dance. Commissioned by Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt - Artistic Directors of Ballet Boyz, Mark choreographed a short film, My Silent World, where he collaborated with film director Luke Aherne for Channel 4’s Random Acts. In 2015, Live Theatre UK awarded Mark best choreographer for The Who’s Tommy. Visit Deaf Men Dancing

Unafraid of controversial subjects, David Hevey is one of the UK’s most original media professionals working out of the UK today. Internationally recognized, the Huffington Post recently described David Hevey as ‘one of the leading documentary markers of a generation’.  His output is prolific and he creatively directs across television, film, digital and other forms. His premise is simple - good stories, well told, with a purpose - to create impactful, compelling reflections about the way we live now.  David uses journalism, performance, documentary, sung-narration and other devices to take the viewer deeper into understanding and feeling stories about our world now. His work is characterised by his inclusive approach, including engagement of and working with people and stories from the margins. He wrote The Creatures Time Forgot: Photography & Disability Representation (Routledge), produced and directed the BBC series, The Disabled Century (2012) and has directed three BBC TV Modern Times documentaries. Visit www.davidhevey.com

Julie McNamara is an award winning playwright and theatre maker. Her work investigates the extraordinary stories of voices hidden in the margins of our communities. Artistic Director of Vital Xposure, her work is renowned for its' strong narratives and bold visual aesthetic that places access at the heart of the story. Recent work has included the internationally acclaimed: 'Let Me Stay', a unique story of living well with dementia and a love letter to the artist's mother.  An activist in Disability Arts and vociferous spokeswoman for mental health system survivors, she describes herself as 'A Mad Woman made good'. Visit Vitalxposure

Research for Museums and Galleries Centre (RCMG) has extensive experience of researching disability history and museums through a series of projects (funded by the AHRC’s Innovation Awards schemes, NESTA, Heritage Lottery Fund, Wellcome Trust, Arts Council England) carried out over the last 15 years. RCMG was recognized in the most recent UK wide Research Excellence Framework (2014) as producing research that was world leading in its impact beyond the academy, shaping professional thinking and practice and tackling prejudice and discrimination towards disabled people. In 2014, a research project led by Jocelyn Dodd and Richard Sandell culminated in the performance, Cabinet of Curiosities by Mat Fraser which as wellbeing critically acclaimed also received The Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture.

Museum partners

This project brings together organisations with track records in innovative public engagement and an exciting blend of expertise in medical collections, the history of medicine, disability history and representations of disability within public history settings, museum ethics and public engagement with scientific and social issues. The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS); the Science Museum; the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), Thackray Museum, Leeds; Royal London Hospital Museum and Archives; Surgeons’ Hall at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh; Museum of the Mind; Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability all hold extraordinary collections and bring rich expertise in medical history, community health, history of disability as well as a commitment to pursuing new ways of engaging audiences in debating biomedical science through the arts.

SHAPE is the disability-led arts organisation working to improve access to culture for disabled people. Visit Shape Arts

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. They support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine.

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people's lives. It support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries - from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better.

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