Larissa MacFarlane - An accessible future has a disabled past

Arts Access Victoria presents The Museum of Us

Without stories of our past, especially stories that are told by us, and without historical figures that represent us, we struggle to unite and grow.

A close-up image showing a portion of the main artwork in finer detail.

About the work

I want to live in a future where our disabled culture is strong, diverse, and proud. I want to exist in a place where we grow up with stories of our own cultural ancestors. And I want these stories to be widely known and easily found.

My accessible future is one where history hasn’t whitewashed and appropriated our cultural icons. Without stories of our past, especially stories that are told by us, and without historical figures that represent us, we struggle to unite and grow.

This artwork uses the figure of Frida Kahlo. Whilst she is now one of the world’s most famous female artists, the concept and image of Frida that now lives in the commercial zeitgeist makes invisible her many and complex cultural identities.

Frida was a proud Mexican woman. And a disabled woman. Not only did Frida live most of her life with injuries acquired at 18, but she also had polio as a child. And while most of her artwork explicitly explored her experiences with pain and disability, this is rarely featured in mainstream discussion.

Even as a disabled artist myself, it took me years to unpack the shallow depiction of Frida as a white feminist icon and discover her life as a complex disabled artist of colour. She even once held an audience at her exhibition opening from her bed that was carried into the gallery. Such accessibility brings me hope!

Within this artwork, the repeating linocuts of Frida’s image are depicted upon a background of pale pinks and blues with white swirling lines and dashes that resemble topographic maps and contour lines.

This represents the complexity of all of our lives. We are not just disabled, we are also sisters, activists, mothers, scientists, artists, we are black, white, brown, and indigenous, we are queer and straight and everything else, and our race, religion, and politics define us as much as they shift us.

We are complex.

The colours used in this artwork reflect those of the transgender flag.

I want to point to the shared history of trans and disabled people, but also use this as an example of the many and varied identities/experiences that intersect with disability.

An accessible future needs a history that tells rich and diverse stories that reflect our complexity. It is a future where we celebrate our elders' living and dead, and the achievements of all of our community.

As has undoubtedly been said before me, without a past, it is hard to imagine the future.

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