Syrus Marcus Ware is a visual artist, community activist, researcher, youth-advocate and educator. He is the Program Coordinator of the AGO Youth Program, Art Gallery of Ontario. Read more about Syrus below.
SITE-SPECIFIC: What’s missing from mainstream discourses of disability? How does this play out within art and design spaces?
SYRUS MARCUS WARE: In my experience, there is a lack of intersectional analysis in mainstream disability discourse. For those of us who are part of multiple communities, who identify with multiple identities, it can be very limiting to articulate our experiences one-dimensionally. We need a disability discourse that talks about gender, that talks about the ways that we experience racialization, that talks about sexuality. We need this because this intersectional approach will make for stronger analysis, stronger research, stronger frameworks for understanding marginality. We also need this approach because it pushes the theory to be what we need it to be: something larger than one-sided analysis, something that helps us change the world that we live in, into something that is built by and for all of us. If we talk about revolution, social change, reimagining the world to look and feel different than it currently does- we need to all be part of that conversation to help imagine something new together. Theory can help push us to this place, but it is essential that it considers the ways in which structural and systemic oppressions are linked and connected.
Within art and design spaces, we can’t limit the discussion of disability to be a question of access. It is about so much more than access! We need to talk about the ways that art and design can help us imagine new possibilities for society, yes for physical spaces and objects- making them useable by all-but more largely to help us imagine completely new ways of interacting with each other and our environments. Art and design needs to be something that talks about difference, that helps us ‘relate across difference’ as Audre Lorde suggests.
S: In the past, you have talked about the importance of creating space for the back stories of artists’ lives in order to understand their work. Can you share your thoughts on the role of social/biographical context in the process of interpretation? What are some critical issues that we should be mindful of in thinking through the politics and ethics of personal narrative and disclosure in art making?
W: When hosting a community advisory meeting with disability communities engaged with the AGO, one of the participants stated that one of the problems with art galleries and museums around disability is that we don’t tell the stories of disability at the core of a lot of artists lives. We may have a large collection of work by artists who are psychiatric survivors, for e.g. but this is not part of the interpretation when showing their work. He urged all museums to consider how to tell stories of disability in our day to day work, when celebrating the lives of artists in our collections. I thought that this was a great observation and challenge to those of us working within these settings.
However, I also have been thinking about the ways that artists with disabilities are often expected to disclose about their experiences of disability as part of their art making process. The act of disclosing is not what is at issue for me- to be clear- but rather the idea that we ‘need to know’ that the artist is disabled as part of ‘understanding’ or ‘appreciating’ their work.