The theme of inclusion was a powerful presence at this year’s Liberty disability arts festival, thanks to the tributes paid to the life and work of David Morris.
The disability rights campaigner – who died in April – was a leading figure in the development of the festival, which this year was dedicated to his memory, with his words – “Together we can change our world” – written across its banners.
And friends of Morris – led by the disabled artists Ju Gosling and Katherine Araniello – organised a tent featuring a tribute to his life and work.
The Red Jesus tent – named after the cultural “salon” he hosted in his apartment – also featured open mic sessions, free refreshments and the first public showings of Together!, his powerful new film for the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council.
Other highlights of this year’s festival included a set by the electro pop band Yunioshi, whose drummer is a wheelchair-user, and a new performance of dance through the ages by the powered wheelchair dancing troupe Rhinestone Rollers for Graeae.
Another crowd-pleaser came from a second Graeae production, a preview of its new musical Reasons to be Cheerful, featuring the songs of Ian Dury.
Gosling said that organising the Red Jesus tent and showing Morris’s last film was “very emotional”. “People obviously came here and saw David’s name everywhere and remembered meeting him. Some people came and didn’t even know he’d died.
“There have been quite a lot of people in tears, tears and laughter. It was very hard for all of us. He is one of those people who will always be missed.
“To those of us working on Red Jesus it was made easier because we were able to do this for him.
“It is a way of honouring his name and making sure all the work he did wasn’t forgotten.
“From what I have seen I think it has been the best [Liberty] yet and that has been really nice because it has been dedicated to David.”
She said she particularly enjoyed being able to look out of the Red Jesus tent and see the Liberty banner featuring his name and quotation beside Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, the artwork by disabled artist Yinka Shonibare that is currently occupying the fourth plinth.
Julie Newman, another friend of Morris’s, said she had mixed feelings at seeing his name on the Liberty banners.
She said: “Dave did believe in us working together and finding a common truth and in human rights and civil liberties.
“The fact is that when he was alive so many people were not listening to what he was saying and marginalised his work, and now he is dead.
“His name is up there on the banners. His name should have been up there on banners at the very beginning.”
Tracey Jannaway, director of Independent Living Alternatives, the company Morris founded, said that having Liberty dedicated to him was “very fitting”.
Asked whether he would have enjoyed this year’s Liberty, she said: “I think he would have liked any year’s Liberty, the concept of gathering people together in terms of diversity, equality and inclusion, and giving quality performers the opportunity to perform and gain mainstream exposure.”
6 September 2010