Georgia Macqueen Black, who works on Shape's disability heritage project NDACA - the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive -, tells us about a particular collection of items held in the Archive, the project's involvement with our second Tate Exchange programme Ghosts in the Machine, and how NDACA’s commissioned artist Poppy Nash will create a new future of disability art and politics.

NDACA preserves the heritage of the disabled artists and activists who from the 1980s onwards worked tirelessly to change the national conversation around disability. They established organisations and controlled how the art was produced; they wrote protest songs, poems and plays which made sense of trying to live in a world designed for non-disabled living. The items held in NDACA cover a broad spectrum of disabled artists, each finding a direction to express themselves within a society built on exclusion and discrimination.

Disability Art was and always will be serious about the experience of disability. It is art preoccupying itself with challenging questions and its production offered disabled people a space to think. How can you define a common experience of disability? How can art re-interpret negative perceptions of the disabled body? How can disability art make disabled people more visible - in ways they want to be seen?   

The artistic objects of NDACA chronicle disabled people’s decision to be as creative as possible when faced with unfair evaluations of their lives. But there is also another interconnecting story within the archive – one that has its roots in campaign ephemera, faded photographs of protests in Trafalgar Square and a pile of well-worn t-shirts. These are the deposits of disabled people’s political history, and the t-shirts offer an instant interpretation of what it meant to be disabled and strong in the 1990s, fighting for your rights.

Agnes Fletcher on a protest for disabled people’s civil rights.

A t-shirt means wearing what you believe in. Each t-shirt in our collection is mark of disability activism, bearing the slogans ‘Piss on Pity’, ‘Tear Down the Walls’, ‘We Will Ride’ and ‘Nothing About Me Without Me’ - the provocations that steered disabled people and their allies towards the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1995. Now, in 2018 – at Shape’s second Tate Exchange programme Ghost in the Machine – NDACA and Poppy Nash will be asking people to revisit the slogans of the past and think about what it means to face barriers today.

From 1 to 4 of March, Poppy will be working in her makeshift Tate Modern studio, open to the public and surrounded by images from NDACA and a hanging display of colourful t-shirts, each one taking inspiration from disability rights protests of the past. Poppy will also work across the four days creating a protest banner for modern times – and it will be the audience responses to the question ‘What does equality mean to you now?’ that will guide her interpretation. We are opening up the space to those who want to engage with our collective heritage effort: stop by the NDACA corner and you will have the opportunity to create your very own cut-out t-shirts, placards and banners, replicas of the tools that make up a powerful protest. 

NDACA and Poppy Nash – No More Pity will offer a glimpse of how disability arts heritage can be used to celebrate the achievements of the past and rethink how disabled people are treated in modern society. In the 1980s and 1990s, disabled activists took ownership of their lives and refused to be belittled. Art was an important part of that struggle. Poppy and the NDACA team invite people to rediscover disabled people’s creative defiance, to join in and be inspired by those who saw equality as the justice achieved after you ‘Piss on Pity’.

You can sign up to NDACA's monthly e-newsletter “The NDACA Paper” by clicking here

Banner image: T-shirt deposited by Alan Holsdworth (aka Johnny Crescendo) into NDACA
Insert image: Activist Agnes Fletcher on a disability rights protest