Meet the Professionals
Anna Colwill is a London-based Disabled Artist and Activist. Living in crip-time, Colwill's practice is multi-disciplinary covering craft, performance art and poetry. Colwill uses her art to reflect on ideas of connections and embodiment, between her own body and the world around her.
BA (Hons): Fine Art and History of Art, Goldsmiths
As well as her own practice, Colwill runs the successful Instagram platform, Disabled Makers. A space for disabled creatives to share their work whilst building community. The Instagram account houses a huge variety of makers as well as a wealth of fantastic resources to learn from.
"Art school, White Cube Gallery, private views; take what works and leave the rest."
Notes and links
Disabled Makers was started by Anna and other disabled creatives after struggling to find an online space for disabled makers. The Instagram account aims to showcase and create a community of artists.
An activist is someone who campaigns for social or political change. This can take many forms: it might be writing letters to your MP, signing petitions, contributing to a political party’s campaign, or strikes and marches.
The term Crip has been reclaimed by disabled people, it identifies those who don't live in an able body. Crip Time is the acknowledgement that not everybody lives and works at the same time or follows the same working patterns because their body doesn't allow it.
Ableism is the way society favours people without disabilities and discriminates those with disabilities. Ableism could look like hosting an event in a building without lift access or not hiring someone because they are disabled.
Anna Colwill: Part of the artistic practice has been a way of reconnecting with my body.
Sophie Ridsdale-Smith: Hello and welcome back to Hang it, the platform providing young people with the tools to understand what a career in the cultural sector might look like. My name is Sophie and today I will be speaking to Anna Colwill to find out about her career as an artist and how she got there. Hi Anna!
AC: Hi Sophie.
S R-S: So do you want to start by introducing yourself and tell us a little bit about your practice?
AC: Yeah so I’m a disabled artist and activist based in London. I am a multi-disciplinary practice that includes craft, participatory and performance art, writing and poetry. To me it is about the kind of connectedness of things and so is about very much embodiment because I have a physical disability but how that sort of fits into our environment, the planet, nature, the metaphysical, the spiritual and how these things work together in cycles. As I say, through the lens of me being a disabled person and dealing with ableism or the fact that the world is not designed for people like me.
S R-S: So you said that you went to art school in London. What was your experience of this, particularly as a disabled artist?
AC: I think art schools aren't really designed for disabled students because art spaces are not generally made for disabled people, in my experience anyway. If you think about the classic White Cube gallery, the very minimalist space which doesn’t consider what bodies are going to be in the space and what their needs might be - when we engage with art or even when we make art, we have to erase the needs of our bodies in favour of actually creating or beholding the art but we’re not thinking how am I going to be comfortable so I very much found that at art school, they sort of give you a few feet of studio space and they like ‘right you need to come here and make some art three days a week, you can come and sit for five hours in a circle with people on plastic chairs and discuss their work but we’re not thinking about your comfort in this because that is not what art is about’. So as I kind of mentioned, I’ve got chronic fatigue and chronic pain with mobility issues and it's like ‘where does my body fit in this?’ and what I sort of asked that question to people, either tutors or people who had power over the course, either I got a sort of shrug or I got worse ‘You know you were disabled about you came so why did you come’. Honestly, a lot of the work that I made now, a lot of the resilience that I have now is down to the fact that I went to art school and that I had to struggle for everything that I got. Being disabled is part of my identity, do I wish I could have been disabled, being able to express myself in art school in the way that I would have liked to, in a way that was comfortable for me? Yes. But would have rather not gone at all because I was disabled and avoided that experience? No.
S R-S: So I think you’ve mentioned already that the techniques that you used are craft-based, what drew you to that?
AC: A lot of the women in my family are crafters, I’ve learned to knit when I was sick so it’s always been something that I have done. But in a kind of more recent sense of my practice, I went to art school and I was like ‘well craft is my hobby’, I ran a knitting club at university but I was like ‘my real practice is performance or whatever’ I was trying to make stuff that seemed more legitimate or more worthwhile than saying ‘well I’ve made myself a jumper’ and it was sort of around the time where I realised that this was a sort of ableist hellscape - why can’t my craft be part of my practice? Why am I trying to separate these two things that are very much intertwined? In terms of my thinking, the craft was very much a base for that, a semantic or a meditative processing tool for me. So because I am disabled and have very limited energy, things like knitting which take very little physical movement, small repetitive movements that actually produce something beautiful.
S R-S: How much time do you dedicate to your art-making?
AC: I am on benefits because I can’t work. Well, it’s a tricky thing to say. I can't work full time in a way that makes me a useful member of society, according to the government. So I have that, I would say that I am very privileged to live with my parents at the moment. I would say that it is my full-time job in the way that it is integrated into my life. But I don’t get up at 9 am and say ‘right I’m going to do some knitting now’ and then I clock off at 5 pm, I always say I live in crip time - crip is essentially similar to queer, it’s a reclaimed word for disabled people that means that we are unapologetically disabled and that that means something. Crip time is about the way time sort of moves differently for disabled people. Things move in cycles and phases and we have to deal with the realities of our bodies and minds in a way that capitalism doesn't make room for. It kind of has seasons because my body has seasons and phases, I will have a pain flare that will last a week, I will have periods where I have less pain and more energy and maybe I’ll do some pottery when that happens. But I still see that as part of the practice, I still see rest and integration as part of an art practice. Part of the crafting practice has been a way of reconnecting with my body.
S R-S: So as well as creating, you’re an activist for disabled people and you have an Instagram account called Disabled Makers @disabledmakers, how did that start?
AC: So it was because I had started an Instagram for my knitting primarily and I saw that there was this very rich knitting community on Instagram. I saw that they were having those very important discussions about racism within the knitting community, they were talking about how certain people were excluded and how certain people were given more space. They were not only doing that, they were actively creating space for black and POC knitters. I’d never thought really about the intersection of the two so to speak and because I have a strong disabled identity, I bet there are disabled knitters out there, I know there are disabled knitters out there because I’ve met them but I can’t see that being talked about, I can’t see any space for disabled makers in general. But so I just posted something with the hashtag #DisabledMakers on Instagram, which had about three posts on it at the time and a couple of disabled makers found it and one of them reached out to me and we were just chatting about it and we were like “why don’t we just make a space that is intentionally” for disabled makers and it just really took off.
S R-S: Yeah and it’s done really well hasn’t it? It’s got thousands of followers. It’s really exciting. Final question, do you have any advice for young people, specifically disabled people, interested in pursuing the art?
AC: I think what I would say is, art school, White Cube galleries, private views take what works and leave the rest. There is a competitive thing in the art world that art school is the place where it really starts. You don’t have to feel bad that you aren’t doing enough of that sort of thing. You don’t have to feel bad if you don’t get it or you can’t talk about art very eloquently. And you don’t have to feel bad that you aren’t making loads of work.
S R-S: Amazing! This has been so insightful so thank you so much, Anna. Everything that Anna has mentioned today will be in the notes as well as a glossary of terms, follow us on Instagram. Thanks so much!