Research Stories

Exploring attitudes to disability through collections

Night out at the museum

The four works created for ‘Exceptional and Extraordinary’ were:

Let Us Tell You a Story - A new, highly original, multi-sensory dance production by Deaf Men Dancing. Known for their unique fusion of different styles of dance with sign language, DMD invited audiences on a journey to explore deaf history and experiences of deafness in an entirely new way.

Francesca Martinez’s Wobbly Manifesto – What if we celebrated difference instead of rejecting it? Comedian Francesca Martinez explores how humanity has chosen to handle (or not) disability over the decades and looks at how these attitudes have huge ramifications for all of us. By proposing her own Wobbly Manifesto, she invites us all to consider how embracing diversity as normal could, in fact, revolutionise the world we live in.

Hold the Hearse! – An interactive, extraordinary, theatrical journey through a myriad of museum collections that have impacted on the lives of the Mad, the Bad and the Unruly in our midst. Playwright Julie McNamara’s tale of two remarkable characters who evaded the collectors features “grime, gruesome grave robberies and grisly murder ballads”.

The Fight for Life – Powerful, unsettling and provocative film by David Hevey. Disproportionately targeted by cuts in public funding and subject to social, political and medical attitudes towards difference that have far reaching, often pernicious consequences, disabled people increasingly face questions around just who is – and who isn’t – worthy of biomedical resources.

Artists on tour

The artists researched their works from eight medical museums in London, Edinburgh, Middlesex, Kent and Leeds, all of whom wanted to use their collections in new ways that would enhance their relevance, broaden their appeal for new audiences, and equip them to engage audiences in debating contemporary and challenging social and scientific issues. The works were presented at these same museums in June 2016.

The artworks are now being used to develop a suite of resources which can be used with medical practitioners to prompt reflection and discussion around patient-centred approaches and related ethical issues.

The ‘Exceptional and Extraordinary’ project was led by Richard Sandell and Jocelyn Dodd from RCMG, part of our School of Museum Studies. The project advisors were Dr Sam Alberti, former Director of the Hunterian Museum; Tony Heaton OBE, CEO of Shape Arts, and Dr Katherine Ott, Curator in the Division of Medicine and Science, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. The project was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England.

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