Art exhibition Ballina, NSW 2022
In August 2022 the Ignite Gallery (part of Northern Rivers Community Gallery) hosted an exhibition of art works by people who use wheelchairs and mobility scooters. This historic building was used as a fire station but now provides an accessible community space. The art works included black and white photographs, prints, paintings, video recordings and embroideries that reflected experiences of travelling around the Ballina area by wheelchair and scooter. For the people who produced the artwork it was important to communicate to the local community and highlight both the pleasures and the pains of having to rely on a mobility device.
The exhibition was opened by Mayor Sharon Cadwalader and over 90 people visited the gallery in 10 days. Visitors were invited to complete a survey (approved by UOW Ethics) that asked them to rate the exhibition and to indicate if they agreed or disagreed to a number of statements. From the 59 surveys collected, 83% of people indicated that they were moved by the personal stories told through the art. Overall, the result was positive with average visitor ratings of 9.1 out of 10. As well, 81% of visitors reported being moved by the stories and the artworks, and 62% of visitors indicating that they better appreciated the reasons why people used mobility devices.
Some of the survey responses indicated that communicating about disability through art was an effective means of communication:
‘You hear about disabilities from the individual who is being affected. This has been expressed through emotion which is a more human experience for the artist and viewer’
‘The visual images together with written captions provided depth and so much meaning (mostly new to me). I loved the beauty, intelligence, humour, freedom (on multiple levels) while living with constant restrictions, ignorance (from council and the ‘norms’) and the brilliant, critical voices of all creators, giving back to me and anyone who cares.’
The collection was also displayed at the University of Wollongong during October on the third floor of the Jillian Broadbent building. With perhaps a more critical, academic audience the surveys still indicated an appreciation for how the exhibition communicated understandings of the lived experience of disability. Survey responses included:
‘I felt moved and momentarily ‘taken away’ from my daily tasks and routine. I was surprised but also felt a greater sense of awareness/understanding/identification with people using mobility devices. I felt changed’
‘The exhibition spoke powerfully and reminded me to question my own perceptions and predispositions towards people who use mobility aids. It felt humanising and provided a safe space to relect and make connections. The exhibition also positioned the artists are innately equal- that felt important.’
Thanks to the generosity of our corporate sponsors who supported the exhibition by covering costs of printing, framing and hosting at the gallery. Sponsors included: Ottobock, Invacare, Paragon mobility, Quantum rehab, Permobil, Sunrise Medical, Merits Australia,Pride Mobilty.
Thanks also to the amazing efforts of the participants who took part in this stage of the research project. This was a great achievement in the light of Covid-19 and the flooding events in Northern NSW where many people had a lot on their minds. I am really grateful for the generosity of everyone who contributed their stories and feel priveleged to have been able to help provide a platform for your voices.