Disability, Art and War

By Ana Carden-Coyne

In 2014, an art exhibition for the Centenary of the First World War opened at Manchester Art Gallery in the UK. I was one of its three curators, with David Morris (Senior Curator, Whitworth Art Gallery) and Tim Wilcox (Head of Exhibitions, Manchester Art Gallery). Over three years in the making, and involving intense weekly meetings and a large team of behind-the-scenes procurers, conservators, technicians, among others, The Sensory War, 1914-2014 opened on October 10th, 2014. It explored how artists over the last century had communicated the impact of war on the human sensory experience, the mind, the body and the environment.

The exhibition came at a heady time in Britain, with politicians inciting a debate about the meaning of the war and the way it should be interpreted now. Prime Minster David Cameron spoke of celebrating rather than commemorating the war, while his Education Secretary, Michael Gove MP made public jibes about leftist and unpatriotic views of the futility of the war. In this climate of politicizing the centenary, we, as curator, did not aim to intervene but perhaps that was the result: a quieter, more reflective tone was struck in our exhibition spaces. The feedback from audiences revealed it as a thought-provoking and solemn engagement with the visual artists who communicated the impact not just WW1 but many other subsequent wars.


Meeting Hanada Shuncho: In Search of Disability in Things Japanese

By Kenny Fries

Fifteen years ago, when I first arrived in Japan, I didn’t know anything about disability in Japanese culture. I didn’t see many people with disabilities on the streets of Tokyo. Disability was not very public. I was told most people with disabilities were hidden away, a combination of lack of access and family shame. However, as I began to discover, disability has been an important, one might even say crucial, part of Japanese culture for a very long time.
When I arrived in Tokyo, I was told by a disability studies colleague about the work of Hanada Shuncho. Hanada-sensei had written about the centrality of disability to Japanese culture, especially the disability of Ebisu, one of the shichifukjin, the seven lucky gods. My colleague referred me to a website called “Ebisu Mandala,” but when I loaded the page all I received was an error message.
During my first stay in Japan, I had difficulty finding what I was looking for. But when I returned three years later things had changed. Not only were more people talking about including students with disabilities in “mainstream” schools but I also saw more people with disabilities on the streets of Tokyo.
And I finally met with Hanada-sensei. By the time of our meeting I had found more disability in things Japanese, especially the blind biwa hoshi.