2020 has been a paradigm shift for many, a year like no other. A time of raw hardship and sudden turmoil in the midst of which we have witnessed gestures of care and support capable of reminding us: we need each other. 

For many disabled and marginalised people, familiar with adversity, witnessing the world come to a halt in a matter of days has paradoxically generated hope. Hope that, for once, the world might take greater heed of what it means to be shut away, impoverished and excluded. 

As the crisis has evolved and its shockwaves travelled, we find it acting as a catalyst for many other significant conversations, in the home, the workplace, or whilst, in the case of the Black Lives Matter movement, taking to the streets in an assertion of grief and outrage. In this time of reflection and learning, a plurality of realisations has occurred. With this, widespread unrest and demands for change have arisen.

More than our lives, entire structures have been thrown into the air by what we are living though, revealing the outlines of a starkly unequal world. In the process, a pandemic of health has radicalised mainstream debate, and we are no longer shying away from discussing the pre-existing pandemics of racism, of gender discrimination, barriers to inclusion and advancement, of gaping inequality, isolation, and disenfranchisement. The list goes on.

Set against this uncertain and restless backdrop, where risk of greater exclusion battles with unique opportunities for change, we at Shape are looking to the future as an act of hope.

For people who are marginalised in the present day, facing discrimination and barriers to access, imagining the future can be an act of radical defiance. It is the act of making a claim to a space that is otherwise denied ­– and for once, marginalised people have the agency to place themselves at its centre.

With this in mind, our exhibition projects into tomorrow the visions of those we believe are integral to the construction of something better. Artists, acting as society’s antennae in many ways, must play an essential role in this project. They will help us imagine, or rather, reimagine, the way ahead. And in bringing together exciting and talented artists from society’s margins, we aim to give voice to those less heeded and recognised in cultural spaces, so that this period of reimagining is, at least in part, owned, informed, and described by them.

Taking current conditions into account, and aware that many people will continue shielding, this exhibition will be hosted online, a place where many of us now live for hours of the day. Speaking to this online experience, then, the future is loading.

And as it loads, these artists, based primarily in the UK, Canada, and USA, remind us to question whose ‘normal’ the ‘new normal’ might be. What will be its instincts, attitudes, and mechanisms? What will joy, love, and pain look like? Who will have access to it and whose interests will it serve? Will it be just, or just like before?

“The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible” – Toni Cade Bambara

“Institutions would do well to heed the mood of change around us: perhaps the coming question is not so much whether they’ll finally let us in, but whether we take them with us?” - Tony Heaton OBE, sculptor, disability rights campaigner and founder of the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive

The Shape Open is our annual exhibition of artwork by disabled and non-disabled artists created in response to a disability-centred theme. The Open provides a space where disabled and non-disabled artists can discuss and exchange views and ideas about issues and topics which are often sidelined within artistic debate.

The Future is Loading / Shape Open 2020

Curated and creatively produced by Shape Arts 

Arts Council England logo.

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