About, University of Illinois at Chicago

Housed in the Department of Disability and Human Development, Bodies of Work (BOW) is a consortium of more than 50 of Chicago’s most recognized cultural, academic, healthcare and social service organizations. The consortium advances the disability arts and culture movement, which illuminates and celebrates the diversity of the disability experience.

Beyond the creation of disability arts and culture festivals, Bodies of Work provides a forum for ongoing programs that honor and explore the accomplishments of local, national and international artists. It offers information to cultural venues about providing access and accommodations for both artists and audiences with disabilities.

"As Disabled people, we are reminded every day that our minds and bodies move in opposition to the expectations of our home cultures. No wonder we feel pressured to drop our differences at the door. But relinquishing our differences fragments our sense of self and crushes our spirit. It’s never good for one’s creative drive to exist in partial form. Disability culture supports our right to resist fragmentation and to reclaim lost parts. Whether Disabled artists openly address disability as a theme in their art or not, having access to their wholeness radiates energy into the world of art.

- Carol Gill, Professor, Department of Disability and Human Development, UIC

So what is disability art and culture anyway?

The disability art and culture movement is in the exciting process of self-definition with the recent explosion of works across media, including memoir, fiction, drama, performance art, film, video, dance, music and the visual arts. These works communicate to audiences the experiences of lives lived with disabilities, and in the process, expand what it means to be human.

The conventional indicators used to identify a culture such as a common language, heritage, rituals and customs are not always applicable when constructing a definition for disability culture. However, people with disabilities do share distinctive life experiences. Disability culture is an internal one born of those shared experiences and a common history. An inter-connectedness comes from an awareness of the ways in which society, in the past and today, has treated people with disabilities as defective and as somehow “less than human.” ‌This exclusion is not only attitudinal, but comes in the form of oppressive social policies as well as architectural and communication barriers. Rooted in an appreciation for disabled people’s inventiveness and creativity in traversing these obstacles, disability culture values physical, sensory and mental differences and our artists create work from that difference. Through their work, artists with disabilities provide alternative perspectives that express their individual and collective grace, diversifying the body’s expressive tradition.

Alice Sheppard perfroming

Photo by Britten Traughber: http://www.brittentraughber.com/