Banner picture: image credit Rachel Cherry. Description: Photograph of the interior of the British Museums great court, a large white, stone-walled space. An audience of people with excited and gleeful faces fills this corner of the court. They are looking and pointing at the floor at objects that the camera does not quite pick up. A suited-performer stands at the edge of the frame, holding a banana.

As part of the 2022 Shape Open programme, following our online exhibition In The Mirror, we hosted an event at the British Museum exploring contemporary representations of disability. Through performance, film, and conversation, a group of the exhibition's artists came together to reflect...

All the photos in this blog were taken by Rachel Cherry. Please note the alt-texts for the images are not full-length image descriptions. You can download a Word document of image descriptions to read in addition to browsing below. All quotes are taken from anonymised audience feedback.


Highlight reel
Dreish Museum with Dre Spisto
Statements of Self with Charlie Fitz
Pneuma (Revisited) by Sop
Alec Finlay's poems
Alexandrina Hemsley's Care and Repair Trilogy
Discussing contemporary representations of disability

Watch all the In The Mirror films

This was our first in-person event for a very long time, and so we are keen to take on board all feedback from our audience, whether you made it to the Museum or not.

If you have any thoughts or reflections on how the event was programmed, or what ways you would like to engage with events from home in future, please share them with us by emailing [email protected]

The highlight reel

Film by Ada Barume featuring artworks from Alec Finlay, Alexandrina Hemsley, Andrea Spisto, Sop, and Charlie Fitz

The Dreish Museum by An(Dre)a Spisto

Photo by Rachel Cherry. Dre stands in a large grand foyer area pretending to be on the phone with a banana instead of a mobile. They wear an over-sized grey suit and thick rimmed glasses. A lone red folding stool is placed nearby in the background.

Photograph of Dre

"I had such a big laugh at the performance art and so many empowering thoughts from the workshop and the panel"

A photograph of a group of audience members stood in front of an information desk inside the British Museum

Andrea Spisto's Dreish Museum performance introduced us to the esteemed head of the Museum and took us on a journey of humour, dancing, and playful criticism to mark the 'grand opening and grand closing' of just what central London was missing, another Museum! Dre invited the audience to contribute their own artefacts to the new institution and, with the help of their assistant Bunny had a conga line going around the grand Reading Room before the evening was up.

More than laughs, Dre's performance engaged with the concept of museums as guardians of material culture and provoked reflection from the audience about what a museum is and who is granted access and authority within it.

A photograph of Dre

Photograph of an audience participation moment during a performance taking place in the Great Court of the British Museum. Many audience members are sat along a long silver bench. Behind them, the white stone walls of the court provide a backdrop to the performance. The performer, Dre

Statements of Self with Charlie Fitz

Photograph of artist Charlie Fitz, a young woman with long brown hair falling down past her shoulders. She is wearing a lacy white dress with a v-neckline and three-quarter length sleeves. She is sat in a room akin to a classroom, at a table covered with paper and coloured pens. She is writing or drawing something but it is indecipherable from this angle.

A photograph of two participants of a workshop. They sit in a room akin to a classroom at a table covered with paper and coloured pens. The two friends, one a woman with long brown hair and glasses wearing a striped t-shirt, the other only captured from behind but sporting a closely shaved hair-cut and wearing a vest.

"...highlighting important subjects that should be raised in art and addressed in the art-world itself, yet defying expectations with acts of hope"

A candid photograph of some people participating in a workshop in a room akin to a classroom. Three people are in shot, but only one face-on. She is wearing a white, long-sleeved top and has her brunette, wavy hair tied up. In front of her, with their backs to the camera, sit a man and a woman. They all sit around a table strewn with paper and coloured pens.

A photograph of a workshop participant, a woman with cropped, reddish and wavy hair wearing a black t-shirt and red jeans, sticking a poster to the wall.

A photograph of a poster created in a workshop using paper, sticky notes, and felt tip pens. Across seven yellow post-it notes stuck to a sheet of white paper, text - written in red felt pen - reads: Photograph of a hand-drawn poster created in a workshop. On a blank, white piece of paper, in orange, purple, and yellow felt-tip pen, is written

Artist Charlie Fitz has been working on her ongoing project, 'Sick of Being Patient,' for some time but we were thrilled to host a creative provocation from her that extended the project to a wider audience. In the workshop, Charlie invited guests to create their own Statements of Self, reclaiming agency over their experiences, and add them to a growing patchwork on the wall.

You can watch the pre-recorded segment of Charlie's provocation below and create your own works. If you share them, be sure to tag us on social media and use the hashtag #StatementsOfSelf!

A photograph taken from behind of artist Charlie Fitz sticking a poster to the wall. Charlie is a young woman with very long, straight brunette hair. She is wearing a cream coloured lacy dress. In the photo, she is tacking a poster with hand written text that reads

Sop's Pneuma (Revisited)

A photograph of two audience members, a man with a beard and a woman with short hair wearing a blue cropped jumper, stood in front of a TV screen. The woman is wearing headphones that connect to the screen. On the screen, an artist film by Sop plays. Sop

Sop's film, Pneuma (Revisited), which was also exhibited as part of the Shape Open In The Mirror this year, played in the foyer. 

Originally made in 2000, the work spans over 20 years. The original film is shown silently on a loop while excerpts from an essay written in 2021 are read aloud, a year when we became more than usually concerned with the idea of ‘the breath.' Sop became chronically ill around halfway between these two works, and this new film is now seen in a different context, beyond the playful, whimsical gesture for which it was originally made.

This new version comments on invisible illness, grief, disappearing in plain sight, isolation and dissociation, common daily states for someone living with chronic illness. We discussed these themes further in the evening's main conversation.


Listen to an audio description of the artwork

A photograph of a woman with long, wavy reddish hair wearing a pink and red checked dress and carrying a cardigan as she watches a film play on a large screen.

descriptions by Alec Finlay

"...with hard-hitting words challenging the viewers' use of their own, in insightful and reflective poetry"

Listen to the 'descriptions' audiobook

Alec Finlay, though sadly unable to make the event in-person owing to Covid, contributed a breadth of gorgeous artworks making use of audio and paper works.

descriptions, which Alec contributed to the 2022 Shape Open exhibition, In The Mirror, played through an MP3 player while Alec's physical artworks and printed poetry were displayed across tables and boards. It was a space for quiet contemplation, drawing the audience into its details. An experience complemented by the readings that Alec contributed through a pre-recorded audio, which despite Alec's absence were haltingly moving and humorous in equal parts. You can find Alec's reading below.

Alexandrina Hemsley's Care and Repair Trilogy

Alexandrina Hemsley, in a beautifully (albeit battery-operated) candle-lit theatre, screen a trilogy of films on the evening. The Care and Repair Trilogy, comprised of Maelstrom Under Glass, An Anatomy of a Phoenix, and My Heart Is Mine As It Is Yours And Ours, streamed back-to-back, in doing so creating a profoundly affecting atmosphere. Alexandrina contributed Collage Detail from An Anatomy of a Phoenix to the 2022 Shape Open exhibition, In The Mirror, which offers deeper insight into the creative process. You can watch the films that were screened below.

"I really loved the trilogy of films. Every element was so deeply considered; at first I got lost in the visuals but then I succumbed to the soundscape... it was so evocative!"

Discussing contemporary representations of disability

We ended the evening with a discussion between three of the artists: Sop, Charlie Fitz, and Andrea Spisto, in which we delved deeper into some of the themes that had emerged over the course of the evening. We spoke about the ways in which disabled artists are often used in temporary or ephemeral arts programming but not woven into the fabric of the arts ecology. Charlie and Sop urged the audience to consider how, in only offering unsustainable opportunities to disabled artists, the problem of inequality and lack of access is worsened, rather than improved. Dre shared some personal reflections on the ways in which, through the pandemic, social media and online networks have been both a blessing and a curse when it comes to their own experience of disability. 

Audience members contributed, too, with inquisitive questions for the artists about how to build a sustainable career, good practice when it comes to programming in the arts, and how we can use the concept of 'crip time' (a theory used by some disabled activists to promote a more nuanced, personal relationship to the pressures of capitalist time-keeping) in our day-to-day lives. 

Overall, it was clear both the contributing artists and the generous audience who joined us for the evening felt that though the space and conversations were nourishing, offering the chance to be felt, seen, and heard within an otherwise overwhelming institution, more such spaces are needed. When it comes to contemporary representations of disability, we need to work hard to separate illusion from reality and ensure that with visibility comes sustainability, care, and the opportunity to creatively thrive.

"an absolutely hilarious, gentle, thoughtful, nourishing, fun, playful, and inspiring night"

You can visit the 2022 Shape Open, In The Mirror, now to explore more artworks from disabled artists reflecting on how they feel themselves represented in the world around us.