This year we had two joint Shape Open winners, artist Ilsun Maeng, for her Blurred Portrait , and Lauren Nicholas for her animation piece.

This is our first year of the Shape Open, held at the Portobello Gallery, London and was created in partnership with the Westway Trust. From the abstract to the figurative, the personal to the political, work in the Open investigated a range of ideas surrounding themes related to the Oxford dictionary's defintion of disability:


noun (plural disabilities)

  • A physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities: children with severe

physical disabilities [mass noun]: differing types of disability

  • A disadvantage or handicap, especially one imposed or recognized by the law: the plaintiff was under a


Three prizes were awarded to exhibiting artists:

The Shape Open Prize of £350 was awarded to two artists, and was selected by Daniel Lancaster from HSBC and Chris Bailey from the Westway Trust.

The People’s Choice Award of £250 was awarded to an artist voted for by exhibition visitors. Funds for both prizes were provided by HSBC. Other members of the Shape Open selection committee comprised of Tony Heaton, Ben Fredericks and Shiri Shalmy (from Shape) and Rob Best (from Portobello Gallery).

Banner image: Left is the work of joint winner Lauren Nicholas, and to the right is Ilsun Maeng's Portrait.

A full colour catalogue of the exhibition is available here: Shape_Open_2012_catalogue_Low_Res.pdf

Ilsun Maeng

In my vision, visibility and invisibility exist at the same time
because my optic nerve was damaged by the after-effect of
cerebral hemorrhage when I was little.
Obviously it takes a little longer to perceive a subject due
to my wider range of the blind spot than people who have
normal vision.
My pupils have to move to the right from a certain point to see
completely what the exact subject is.
It’s like drawing a curtain. I rely on the movement of my eyes
to see the rest of the seen.
With the series Blurred Portrait, I try to visualise both the
seen and the unseen, and movement in between.

Lauren Nicholas

An Ageing Thing (2012)

This animation is about my Grandpa who has Macular
Degeneration and is registered blind.
By sharing his story through the work I hope to create
conversations between those facing similar difficulties.
Lauren Nicholas

Tim Abbott

Brute Distinction (2012)

Brute Distinction’ is a reaction to the passing of the
Welfare Reform Act 2012 into law in March.
The Welfare Reform Act includes an attempt to
redefine what it means to be disabled in the UK,
challenging previously indefinite support and
abolishing the Disability Living Allowance, with
minimal acknowledgement of the views of disabled
people on the subject.

Ira Avezov

Self Portrait (2011)

I create cycles of self portraits: self portraits, portraits of self
portraits, portraits of portraits of self portraits, and so on.
What the artist says:
Ira Avezov

Bill Balaskas

Darkness (2007-10)

‘Darkness’ is a game with perception that aims at
challenging the limits between the opposite qualities
appended on “dark” and “light.” Most importantly,
it is a game that celebrates the shades between
the two putatively “pure” conditions: what would
“darkness” mean without the possibility of light and
what would “light” mean without the possibility of
darkness? And why do the two concepts continue
to represent a variety of stereotypical binaries in our
This philosophical approach might seem quite
elemental; yet, it could still constitute a means to
fight the always-convenient theorization of life in
After all, the work could be an invitation to (re-)
discover our own personal “light,” and, perhaps
along with it, to embrace other peoples’ diverse
interpretations of it.
What the artist says:

Sohaila Baluch

Endless Bind (2012)

This piece is a direct response to my mother’s
severe disability. After suffering a traumatic brain
injury in 2000 she has remained in a locked state
of paralysis. I wanted to make something that
comments on the never changing state of her
condition. I used the image of the wheelchair
as it is such a dominant part of her life, and
although intended to aid her mobility, it in fact
continues to confine her. I found a template for
a model wheelchair and thought how beautifully
and delicately it was actually made. It reminded
me so much of my mother and her suffering, the
vulnerable plight of a body and mind suspended in
an unremitting state.

Lisa Brown

Bed head (2011)

This work was created in response to the affliction
of becoming crippled in old age, waiting to die, bedbound
and helpless, where one’s voice becomes

Andrew Cochrane

Duck and Bear (2012)

It was my intention to create a unique series of
animals that are deaf. Their deafness disables them
from imitating the usual sounds of their kind, instead
vocalising calls that belong to a different species
entirely. Touching upon the awkward yet comical
mistakes deafness can cause, this series takes
inspiration from the vocal blunders in my own life.
Andrew Cochrane

Michael Coombs

Dyslexia (2010-11)

I make work that explores our perception of the
world. I invite the viewer to look beyond their first
impressions and to discover what is really presented
to them.
I present casts of everyday objects, which at
first allude to things that they are not, creating
unexpected and often disturbing twists in the object
and the viewer’s perception. The work draws upon
the viewers’ experiences and challenges their initial

Barbara Dougan

Born Equal II (2010-11)

My current work expresses futile struggle against
constraint or confinement through actions that result
in films, film installations and drawing.
Born Equal II’ is one of a series of films made in
response to the cuts to public services and benefits
that are threatening the most vulnerable in society.
Making the work is a cathartic attempt to express
my own anger and frustration at the effects of
public policy, and empathetic to the struggles many
people face to maintain independence and create
opportunities for themselves and their families.
The constrained body makes futile attempts to
break out of its circumstances, focusing on the feet
as a symbol of strength and vulnerability, carrying
powerful contradictory connotations of sensitivity
and resilience, care and torture, the mundane and
the sacred.

Rebecca Drayson

One Sunny Afternoon (2012)

In a small village where the sun shines everday a
man was playing the drums. A group of children
passed by and stopped to listen to the music.
Amongst the group of children was a boy who could
not see but when his hand touched the drum he
played the most sweetest music that anyone had
ever heard.

Murmur (2012)


(Simon Geal, Simon Purins and Ivan Riches)

Taking Samuel Beckett’s ‘All Strange Away’ as its starting
point, this short film deconstructs the human condition
via the subjugation and oppression of an individual in an
increasingly restrictive space.
In terms of disability, the film addresses the onlooker’s
complicity in that restriction and society’s need for neat,
convenient, medical models of disability that separate
people into categories that limit and ostracise them:
“Murmur unaffected, He’s not here, no sound, Fancy dead,
gaping eyes unaffected.”
Samuel Beckett (1963/1979) All Strange Away

Katerina Fanouraki

Life Death (Reborn), 2011

I made this project because of my troubled
relationship with my own body. The body that has
been sexually abused and has suffered from very
serious surgical operations in a tender childhood.
I used to hate it. Intense weight fluctuations and
shame for my image were my former reactions. I
had embodied the negative aspects of my character
to it. And I managed not only to reconcile with my
body but to expose it to public view. I dared to
show this suffering body, the barrier of self with the
outside world and the connector at the same time.
And I reverted it to become the instrument of my
expression as an artist. I would describe these photo
series as a personal transcendence and salvation at
the same time. As the death of the old self and the
rebirth of a new, stronger, more conscious one.

Pearl Findlay

Disabled Parking Spaces (2011-12)

My current body of work consists of access problems, and
in this particular instance, disabled parking. I photograph
various allocated disabled parking spaces as people come
in and out of spaces, whether they are disabled or not. I am
regularly visiting various car parks where disabled parking
is permitted. These car parks have ‘strict’ and clear rules
with fines for breaching regulations for disabled parking
spaces, but despite this, it is common for many nondisabled
people to park in these spaces. I am approaching
this issue by informing those who have parked in a disabled
parking space about my project and if they would agree to
be involved. Often I face a lot of prejudice and confrontation
when photographing, but this is really the point; to alter
views and force people to assess their detrimental attitudes
and actions.

Ben Gardner

Red Series, 2011

As a long term sufferer of Bi polar I am interested in
the use of vivid colour harmony to create a positive

Daniel Golding

My father makes me feel a lot better (2012)

I like drawing the people I know and sharing my vision of the
This is me and my dad. Looking at him makes me feel good.

Jack Haslam

Norman (2010)

‘Norman’ started off as the quest for a perfect friend,
I was lonely and felt isolated in a world I found hard
to understand. My grandmothers poodle ‘Penny
Peaches’, who I had known since a baby, was the
subject of my obsession combined with Norman; a
possible real person I saw on the bus.
I wanted to combine the look and the feel of Penny,
kind in the face with gentle eyes but to have a
human appearance.
The acceptance from other people that he was not
too weird was very important. I don’t know why I
used the chair.

John Howard

Mamadou, Almanzora Riverbank,
Palomares, Spain, North (2012)

Mamadou grazes 700 sheep and goats in the dry riverbed
where the first of four hydrogen bombs was accidentally
dropped by the US Air Force in 1966. Non-nuclear
explosives in two bombs detonated, scattering their
radioactive elements. So for nearly fifty years, the people of
Palomares have lived with the knowledge that some of their
lands – and perhaps their own bodies and livestock – are
contaminated with plutonium.

Sabrina Kaici

Able, 2012

Able’ is a visual take on braille writing, quoting
the disabled athlete Oscar Pistorius: “You’re not
disabled by your disabilities, you are able by your
By using a language destined to blind or partially
sighted people in a visual way, I aim to make
the message accessible to all and emphasise its
universal content: we shouldn’t be defined by our

Graham Miller

Taken during Perth and Kinross Council’s “Lets
Dance” initiative.
As the teacher went through warm up, Bob, whose
body is in constant motion due to his condition, saw
me with the camera and grasped his head to hold it
still for the photograph.
I felt emotional and humbled by the experience of
working with him and was astonished at the positive
impact the dance classes had on him.

Sophie Morgan

Reality (2010)

This artwork forms part of a series called “The Red Shoes”
which depicts the realities and fanaticises of retaining
femininity and self-expression, while adapting to life in a
wheelchair after being paralysed.
Universally recognised as symbols of womanliness and
sexuality, the Red Shoes became representative of all I
felt I had lost in becoming disabled, including my femininity
and independence. But in creating the work, I cathartically
explored the empowerment felt in embracing my reality with
humour and irreverence.
‘Reality’ has been drawn by a technique I have developed
called ‘blind drawing’ in which one continuous line is drawn
with eyes closed.
This technique prevents a fixation with precision or accuracy
and allows an internal image – inspired by memory, dream
or imagination – to form freely and honestly.

Adrian Mundy

‘Twist’ represents the uphill struggle I have with getting
myself, and my work, out into the outside world having had
M.E. and agoraphobia for the last 24 years. The ‘doors’ are
the opportunities that are put in front of me but are beyond
my reach.
It is painted in my ‘predetermined randomness’ system,
using personal words to dictate the position of colours on
a related 3D grid, with each colour representing a different

Twist (2009)

Kate Murdoch

No No No (2012)

‘No No No’ features three ceramic figurines representing
a bygone era, with a modern intervention which invites the
viewer to reflect on our attitudes towards disability today.

Maureen Oliver

Vincent Van Gogh is depicted painting “Starry Night”
in his yellow house in Arles. His head is bandaged
after his self-harm. The shutters are flying open and
an angry mob outside the window is yelling and
screaming, “drive the madman out of town”. The
painting relates to the stigma and active prejudice
experienced by people with mental health problems
and is also a homage to Vincent.
Vincent in the Yellow House (2006)

Charlie Pi

Artha and the Vandellas (2011)
A multi portrait triptych featuring dancer performer Tonny
A as a sixties soul diva. An affirmation that we can be
whatever we choose regardless of race, gender or disability.

Tanya Raabe

Deborah Williams, 2011

This portrait is from the ‘Revealing Culture: HeadOn’
collection 2011 and was made as an artwork and
body of research. The work challenges the notion
of identity, the nude and disability culture within
contemporary portraiture.
I delved into the public art collections on display
in Tate Liverpool and Tate Modern, seeking
representations of the untold culture of disability.
Initiating discussion with members of the public
proved to be enlightening and exciting as they
considered the visibility of Disability Culture within
our civic art collections. Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool
and Wolverhampton Art Gallery supported this
pioneering project hosting the live portrait sittings
throughout 2010 - 2011, creating a platform for a
dynamic way in to disability history and cultural

Christopher Sacre

Painting II (2011)
Discovering the endless possibilities of his condom
creations, both visually and conceptually. His method
for making the casts references the way in which a
used condom is knotted and discarded: “The sperm is
left inside and it all look the same - you don’t know if
they would be black, white, deaf, disabled”.
In this painting there are no casual groupings; a smaller
shape whispers something into the ‘ear’ of another, an
isolated other looking on.
What the artist says:
Christopher Sacre

Christopher Samuel

A room with no view (2012)

This is an image of my room where I spent a few
years, as there was a time in my life when I felt
unhappy, lonely, isolated, etc. This was due to a
combination of things like the progression of my
condition Muscular Dystrophy and depression. So I
sketched the view I saw from my bed where I spent
a lot of time.

Tracy Simpson

Playing the hands dealt to me… (2012)

This is a self portrait of my severely arthritic hands. My
personal perspective of living with severe physical disability
is embodied in this still, by the fragility of my damaged, nondexterous
hands, “Ace-ing” the hustling deck of the “Jestering”
world, dealing defiantly with the challenge to handle and
hold the cards, whilst setting up and shooting the image!

Eugenie Smit

Consume (2012)

Sometimes it feels as if a predicament consumes
from the inside.

Alexandra Unger

Trapped in this pelvis (2011)

She is a prisoner of her pelvis and the only thing that is left
of her is her prisoner pelvis.

Alan Ward

Untitled (2012)

This work shows the path of a line, a trail crossing the
page, a journey where various interactions, events,
hazards are encountered. This is like a journey where
negotiating obstacles is brought to mind, something that
people who are mobility impaired and have to confront
each time they go out.

Trish Wheatley

This Is Not Disability Arts (#2) (2011-12)

• I am not disabled. I am temporarily not disabled.
• I am an artist. I am temporarily not an artist.
• I am an administrator, a facilitator, a creator, a
   representative, an advocate, a producer and fundraiser.
• I live, breathe and sleep the world of Disability Arts. But I
   am temporarily not disabled.
• Can I make Disability Arts? Am I invalid?
• By definition I am excluded. By attitude I am not.
• Those who are excluded by society choose to include me.
• But This Is Not Disability Arts.

Jason Wilsher-Mills

I can’t paint wheelchairs (but I am good at
painting sheep) (2011)

I was attempting a very straightforward portrait of myself
in the wheelchair, but after many problems with drawing
elipses, and after discussions with my daughter, we decided
that instead of having me in a wheelchair, me on a sheep
would be more practical.
I see this as a joyous piece, which celebrates life through
humour and honesty. I mean, even though it’s a sheep, it
still has the practicality of having a disabled parking symbol
on it’s rear.

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