Dif­fer­ence of Abil­ity


In a year when Jakarta pre­pared for com­pe­ti­tion, it in­stead found col­lab­o­ra­tion, in­clu­siv­ity and unity. As hosts of the Asian and Para Asian Games the city was geared up for sport­ing gold. How­ever, it ended up be­ing re­warded by much more. It was a year of firsts for the city, cham­pi­oned by the dis­abled com­mu­nity who, through show­cas­ing a spec­trum of tal­ents and invit­ing us into their worlds, have opened Jakarta’s mind and in­tro­duced the city to a whole new tro­phy chest of ideas.

The Asian Para Games was a prodi­gious event for ex­po­sure and ed­u­ca­tion. It was the first time in In­done­sia that mil­lions and mil­lions of peo­ple were en­gaged in sto­ries of dis­abil­ity. Daily, driv­ing around the city, you could see im­ages of dis­abil­ity that were also de­pict­ing strength; a woman in her wheel­chair holds up a bridge, and a three foot ten­nis ball is be­ing hit into an over­pass by a Par­a­lympic ten­nis player. The sta­di­ums were stacked with sup­port­ers and mil­lions watched the broad­casted events. It was in­ter­est­ing to see the hash­tag, “parain­spi­rasi” be­ing plas­tered across so­cial me­dia, at­tached to im­ages of sport­ing cham­pi­ons. Up­loaded by ex­cited fans, it of­ten of­fended mem­bers of the com­mu­nity who felt it was pa­tro­n­is­ing and be­lit­tling of the sports­men. It is com­mon in dis­cus­sions of dis­abil­ity, that a so­cial model of think­ing isn’t fully adopted. That rather than an equal and nor­malised view of dis­abled sports­peo­ple, it is a glo­ri­fied one. How­ever, a change in at­ti­tude takes time and these events and the de­bates that they ig­nite are all nec­es­sary steps at the be­gin­ning of that jour­ney.

Run­ning in tan­dem with the Par­a­lympic Games was an arts fes­ti­val, the first of its kind in In­done­sia. Fes­ti­val Be­bas Batas, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Na­tional Gallery of In­done­sia, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Cul­ture, Art Brut Col­lec­tive, and the Bri­tish Coun­cil, was a cel­e­bra­tion of all forms of art with the in­ten­tion to show­case a free­dom from bound­aries. The fes­ti­val, which pri­mar­ily took place at the Na­tional Gallery, ex­hib­ited over 50 artists, link­ing In­done­sia and the UK through film, pho­tog­ra­phy, dance, visual arts, de­bate and ac­tivism.

The open­ing night pre­sented a spec­tac­u­lar dis­play of col­lab­o­ra­tive dance per­for­mances. Bal­letID opened the show with a com­pany of In­done­sian dancers. They com­bined tra­di­tional dance with con­tem­po­rary styles and nar­rated their ex­pe­ri­ences of in­vis­i­bil­ity. How­ever, the dance in­ten­si­fied and the mes­sage be­came stronger. Fin­ish­ing with a mo­ment where a woman was car­ried on the shoul­ders of a man who danced with the sup­port of a crutch like sons carry a hearse, its sym­bol­ism seem­ingly mim­ick­ing the idea of send­ing any per­cep­tion of in­abil­ity to its grave. The clos­ing act, per­formed by two dancers from CanDoCo, was chore­ographed by Ar­lene Philips, pre­vi­ously a judge on Strictly Come Danc­ing. It por­trayed the story of a cou­ple in the throes of pas­sion. The move­ment was skil­ful and ex­act, yet fluid and evoca­tive and trans­ported the au­di­ence away from fo­cus­ing on who the dancers were and en­veloped them in the feel­ing of what they were cre­at­ing.

Amongst the visual art, there were two in­stal­la­tions which ex­plored iden­tity and in­tro­spec­tion, one through the medium of video and the other with pho­tog­ra­phy. The range of rep­re­sented dis­abil­i­ties, phys­i­cal and men­tal, of­fered per­spec­tive into how we are all im­per­fect in some way, that we are all dif­fer­ent from one an­other and, that, oddly, makes us all the same. Hanna Mad­ness, a cham­pion of the fes­ti­val, ex­hib­ited her video pro­ject, In Chains with artist, the Vac­uum Cleaner. They ex­posed the darker re­al­i­ties of what it may mean to be dis­abled in In­done­sia.

There were many mu­si­cal per­for­mances dur­ing the fes­ti­val, a high­light be­ing the out­door club nights cu­rated by Deaf Rave from the UK and Dipha Barus from In­done­sia. These trans­formed au­di­ences’ ideas of what a “night out” could mean. Loud bassy mu­sic was felt and heard, whilst hip- hop lyrics were signed on stage. Senses which nor­mally get for­got­ten in your av­er­age club were en­gaged and the ex­pe­ri­ence, there­fore, height­ened. One mem­ber of Deaf Rave spoke with Adam Pushkin, Bri­tish Coun­cil In­done­sia’s Di­rec­tor of Arts and il­lu­mi­nated the ad­van­tage of be­ing deaf in a club. We’ve all ex­pe­ri­enced try­ing to ask some­one a ques­tion on the dance floor, scream­ing di­rectly at them and they still can’t un­der­stand you. With sign lan­guage, your com­mu­ni­ca­tion can be smoothly in­cluded into your dance moves with no fear that your sur­round­ings are go­ing to in­ter­rupt your flow. It was these al­ter­nate ad­van­tages and new an­gles that Be­bas Batas was re­ally about for Adam Pushkin. The per­for­mances re­ally em­pha­sised the idea that “by ig­nor­ing peo­ple whose bod­ies are dif­fer­ent, we are cut­ting our­selves off from an op­por­tu­nity for the great­est di­ver­sity in abil­ity and cre­ative pos­si­bil­ity.”

One of the most poignant parts of Fes­ti­val Be­bas Batas was an event that wasn’t ac­tu­ally a per­for­mance of any kind; it was a Zom­bie Walk on Jalan Sudirman car free day. Led by the fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers and the Bri­tish Coun­cil, per­form­ers and sup­port­ers of all abil­i­ties dis­guised them­selves as zom­bies and walked united through Jakarta. It was a pow­er­ful point that was be­ing made through a very ob­vi­ous par­ody, an idea that was de­vel­oped by mem­bers of the dis­abled com­mu­nity them­selves. A zom­bie: some­one who isn’t wholly hu­man, a per­son who is with­out life. Dis­abled peo­ple are of­ten made to feel as though this is how they are com­monly viewed and this walk was a di­rect ob­jec­tion to that, a re­claim­ing of this per­cep­tion to ex­hibit how very wrong it is. With this mes­sage em­bla­zoned into our minds, watch­ing, for the first ever time in In­done­sia, dis­abled mod­els walk the run­way at the Sean Sheila x Tea­tum Jones fash­ion show of­fered an apt par­al­lel. On Sun­day peo­ple walked the high­way to make their point and seven days later, (dis)abled mod­els walked the run­way to af­firm it.

What these events and ex­hi­bi­tions have show­cased more than any­thing, is the para­dox that ex­ists within our own def­i­ni­tion of dis­abil­ity. The term “dis­abled” be­comes en­tirely re­dun­dant as we watch cham­pi­ons win their races, as we be­come moved by the mo­tions of a dancer with his crutch, and as we ad­mire walls of paint­ings cre­ated with­out the use of a sin­gle hand. Any need for a “dis” to pre­fix abil­ity is dis­man­tled and in­stead we are ex­posed to a to­tally unique in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ca­pa­bil­ity. Yes, it is dif­fer­ent but that is its strength. We, as a so­ci­ety, must be­gin to al­ter our out­look and let our per­cep­tions be free of lim­its.

“The term “dis­abled” be­comes en­tirely re­dun­dant as we watch cham­pi­ons win their races, as we be­come moved by the mo­tions of a dancer with his crutch, and as we ad­mire walls of paint­ings cre­ated with­out the use of a sin­gle hand. Any need for a “dis” to pre­fix abil­ity is dis­man­tled and in­stead we are ex­posed to a to­tally unique in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ca­pa­bil­ity.”


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