British Museum Webinar: Hidden / Revealed

I am Jessie Yates, a young artist born and raised in London. I am currently doing some voluntary work for Turf Projects in Croydon, focusing on accessibility, with the goal of assisting their workers with Turf’s services to the local community. On Friday 5th February the British Museum held a day of webinars orchestrated by the Museum’s Equality and Diversity Manager, Fiona Slater, focusing on exploring themes in work from disabled artists. The work ranged from poetry, to performance and documentary. This event focused on accessibility, providing carefully thought-out access facilities so the event could be enjoyed by everyone. This is a perfect place for me to start my research!

Still from ‘Kintsugi Gold’ by Chanje Kunda ( https://www.chanjekunda.com/)

Jumping straight into the first webinar ‘What Athena Saw When Tiresias Looked: Greek Myth and Contemporary Poetry’, I was surprised to see I immediately recognised the poet Ellen Renton, having been to another online poetry event during the first lockdown. Captivated by her poetry before, it was interesting for me to hear about her experiences and as a visually impaired woman. In conversation with Dr Jane Draycott (the Museum’s classicist and archaeologist), Ellen discussed how visually impaired people were treated in history, and how some of these misconceptions are carried through to today. Ellen discusses how Tiresias was blinded by Anthea, and then gifted the ability to see into the future. Often, it was assumed that people with a visual or hearing impairments may have a kind of ‘sixth sense’. It’s these myths that create uncomfortable situations, where someone with a visual impairment will feel categorised and  misunderstood. For me, the most interesting part of this conversation were Ellen’s perspectives on British language. She describes our culture as being built around sight; “there are more words for describing something you see, than something you taste”! This is definitely an important consideration when creating accessible content. Using imaginative language; words which evoke other sensory engagement can be important when providing engaging audio descriptions.

Throughout these webinars it was interesting for me to observe the quality of the provisions for accessibility. Clearly it can be difficult to make this cohesive, especially for a live event. For me, the most carefully considered webinar was the final one ‘Scored in Silence’ with artist Chisato Minamimura (chisatominamimura.com/). With British Sign Language (BSL) provisions, I would imagine it was easier to follow for someone with a hearing impairment like Chisato. In the other webinars, with just captions, it was difficult to decipher the conversation fully. Chunks were missed out, and words misrepresented; although this is obviously very difficult to get right in a live event, computers do sometimes fail us! Similarly, audio descriptions of the artists and academics’ appearance, although given by some of the participants, were not given by all.

Still from ‘Scored in Silence’ by Chisato Minamimura (chisatominamimura.com/projects-2/scored-in-silence/)

I’d like to end this post with a really interesting question that was asked by an audience member at the end of ‘Scored in Silence’. They asked Chisato: “has the information provided to deaf people about COVID been accessible?”. In short, her answer was No. She describes feeling at a loss when watching the announcements. With no BSL interpreters, and inconsistent (if any) subtitles. She feels as if she is playing catch-up, constantly wondering where to find vital information. This hammered home for me exactly how inaccessible our culture is. During this global crisis we have been encouraged to think about others and how our actions impact them; surely that means everyone. Making art accessible is important for the wellbeing of our whole population.

Links to accessible resources on current affairs:

Access to Work Guide

Black Lives Matter (BLM) Resources Easy Read


Covid-19 (coronavirus) – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-vaccination-easy-read-resources/information-on-covid-19-vaccination-easy-read-guide

https://www.richmond.gov.uk/services/wellbeing_and_lifestyle/health_protection_information/coronavirus_information/covid_19_information_in_accessible_formats (extensive list of accessible resources for the borough of Richmond – however some resources are very useful for anyone living in London)

LGBT – http://www.lgbthealth.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/LGBT-LD-resource-list-handout-24092015.pdf

Just after writing this first blog post, I got some news that I had got a job as an art club leader and teacher at art-K in Purley. I thought I would share a bit about my practise and what I have taken from my short time volunteering at Turf.

Works from lockdown series ‘In a Day(ze)’ 2020 by Jessie Yates

My paintings reflect immediate emotion, often embodying a moment in time. My works walk the line between painting and sculpture; filling the physical space with a feeling of calmness and solidarity. The physical depth and layers in the works are created by both adding and cutting back into the painted canvas. Displayed outside, these works move with the elements and become part of our surroundings.

‘canvas studies’ in studio at Phoenix Arts Space, Brighton, 2019 by Jessie Yates

Since starting volunteering at Turf, I have been analysing the accessibility of my own work. It has been valuable for me to look at my works in this way and re-evaluate them. It is the tactile nature of these works that makes them so connected to emotion and feelings. In this way, it is crazy to think that these works would sit in a gallery space, not to be touched. I have been imagining how these works could occupy a new space, being out in nature, interacting with people and the environment.

Through spending this time working with Turf I have been inspired by their approach, hopefully this is something I can take forward into my new role.

Thank you to Turf for the opportunity!

Jessie Yates (@jessiejyates / www.jessiejewyatespainter.com)