Why Can’t We Dream is a large-scale textile banner based on a quote by disability activist and blogger, Ruth Spurr. Ruth is a member of the co-researcher collective for the Economic and Social Research Council funded Living Life to the Fullest* research project which consists of six disabled young women, aged 19-30 years, who identify as living with life limiting and/or life threatening impairments (LL/LTIs).
Rather than focusing on the difficulties experienced by disabled young people, the quote instead uses a rhetorical device to challenge accepted notions of disability and to invite the audience to imagine the hopes and aspirations of disabled people. At the same time it invokes the opposite sentiment, highlighting barriers and exclusion created by societal norms.
The protest banner aesthetic symbolises aspects of visibility, change, activism and celebration and also features motifs from the research. These motifs include elements such as a large central eye, signifying the experience of being observed and pathologised by medical professionals as well as by the general public. In this way, the eye motif returns the gaze back to the viewer, subverting it in the process.
The use of the collective term ‘We’ in the title of the artwork suggests the networks of solidarity and camaraderie often adopted as ways to develop support strategies and methods for people living with chronic illness. However, while the banner is developed from young people’s experiences of disability, it also challenges an ableist narrative of the self-sufficient, autonomous individual, inviting us all to imagine new future possibilities.
The work was exhibited at the Living Full Lives conference on 21st February 2020 at Millennium Galleries, Sheffield.
* Project reference: ES/P001041/1 Life, Death, Disability and the Human: Living Life to the Fullest https://livinglifetothefullest.org