5 December 2022

Empowering collaborative exhibition captures Canberrans with a disability through a lens

| Evelyn Karatzas
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man holding guitar

An image of Bruno Cirillo is among those on show in Pictures of You. Photo: Hilary Wardhaugh.

A new collaborative exhibition highlighting and empowering people with visible and hidden disabilities has opened in Belconnen.

The exhibition Pictures of You features a series of AO-sized photographs and portraits taken by photographer Hilary Wardhaugh depicting people with lived experiences of physical and mental disabilities.

Canberry Communications project manager John Brookes said the display was made up of a selection of portraits of people with disabilities from across the ACT.

“The subjects and their disabilities are as diverse as the different way they see themselves,” he said.

“The goal is one of equal balance in working with the artist to vocalise their experiences and feelings, collaborating to produce a visual and accessible perspective for reference by the subject and the wider community.

“The end result is a combination of a meaningful and balanced exploration of issues and a source of pride in the subject, coupled with the artist’s natural creative ability to empathise with and interpret their subject in new ways by working with the subject.”

Pictures of You opened last night (2 December) at the Belconnen Arts Centre.

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The exhibition portrays the message that people with disabilities are not defined by their disabilities.

“Often the disability is incidental and subtly portrayed in the image – such as a visually impaired subject perusing the Sculpture Gardens with her cane resting nearby,” Mr Brookes said.

“Also, it addresses the notion of invisible disability – not everyone with a disability is in a wheelchair. Often the visual clues are not obvious: one image in the exhibition tackles the rarely considered effects of disability – especially where the disability is not apparent.

“These include homelessness, isolation and loneliness, unemployment, etc.”

Mr Brookes said professional photographer Hilary Wardhaugh sat down with the subjects, got to know them, and talked through how they saw themselves as individuals, not just ”disabled” people.

“They created and agreed to images as equals rather than a top-down process,” he said.

”There was never any question of Hilary pulling rank as an expert artist – something disabled people often suffer in relationships with doctors, specialists, carers, service providers, etc.”

woman sitting on couch

Melissa features in Pictures of You. Photo: Hilary Wardhaugh.

Melissa is one person with a disability who is featured in the exhibition.

“Do you see what I see? A person in pain? A person who struggled to get dressed and do their hair that day? A person calculating what they will have to give up in their week to recover from this?” Melissa said.

“My battle is not only with my body, it’s the part of me you can’t see.

“In 2015, I was involved in a car accident. As a result of my injuries, I was left with the invisible disability called chronic pain and became homeless, needing to couch-surf to get by.”

Hilary added: “One cannot assume that just because a person does not have an obvious health problem that they are well and able.

“It is fluid. I wanted to show Melissa’s beauty and resilience against adversity.

“The backdrop is a home that has been vacant for a couple of decades, hence the irony.”

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Mr Brookes, a long-standing Belco Arts associate and member of its IGNITE group, said he was glad to repay their welcome, inclusion and encouragement of him over the years.

“Also, of course, the subjects and Hilary. Without them all working together as a team, people would be turning up to look at a blank wall,” he said.

“I am really looking forward to the responses [to Pictures of You] and, hopefully, the debate that this exhibition stimulates amongst attendees.”

Mr Brookes said Pictures of You also tied in with the International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD), today, 3 December.

“I am pleased that the exhibition will run until 2 February, 2023, as it points towards the fact that disability issues merit more than a ‘day’ of awareness,” he said.

“Belconnen Arts have done a fantastic job of creating a whole range of diverse yet complementary exhibitions to recognise IDPWD.”

To find out more, visit Belco Arts.

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