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16.03. ​​Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Arts Now

Emily Watlington (Art critic, curator, and assistant editor at Art in America)


Liza Sylvestre, Captioned-Channel Surfing (still), 2016. Courtesy: the artist.

[Image description: Movie still, close-up of a white man and woman wearing summer clothes in a rural setting looking excited in a phone booth. A caption reads “They are so young and excited and happy.”]

This talk presents an overview of recent work in the disability arts movement. I’ll explore the three main approaches artists have been taking recently in order to advance disability culture and push for disability justice. The first involves first-person narratives and considers examples that range from explicit to opaque. The second considers artists using their practices to explore access. Many examples critique institutional accessibility or prototype dream approaches, where access is not a mere after thought but integral, where nothing is assumed about an audience’s or user’s needs. The third approach celebrates diverse body minds and the rich perspectives they bring to various fields, focusing on the important work of disabled dancers. Finally, I’ll take stock of the impact this work has had in mainstream culture—where accessibility efforts are growing, though imperfectly, and unevenly—and consider what work is left to be done.


Emily Watlington is a critic, curator, and senior editor at Art in America. Her writing often focuses on disability culture, but also those places where art and science meet. She is a Fulbright scholar with a master’s degree from MIT—in the history, theory, and criticism of architecture and art—and in 2020 she received the Theorist Award from C/O Berlin. When she is able to step away from New York, where her life revolves around reading, writing, and seeing art, she is curious about surfing, foraging mushrooms, deserts, animal rights, and aerospace.


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