Sandie has long black hair and is showing a group of people how to use the 'Cards for Inclusion' card game that Unlimited provided at the Symposium
Photo by Rachel Cherry

Finding My Own Kind at Unlimited

Unlimited’s 2018 International Placement, Sandie Yi, gives us some insight into her time in the UK including Unlimited: The Symposium and the Unlimited Festival.

I still have a vivid memory of when I came out as a disabled person during the Bodies of Work: Network of Disability Arts and Culture Festival in Chicago in 2006:

I experienced the newly discovered anger about ableist oppression and disability shame and guilt which were juxtaposed with the complicated senses of heart-pounding shocks, excitements and the joy of “finding my own kind”—fellow disabled artists and disability rights activists. Today, I am 12 years old in “Crip age.”

To celebrate my “rebirth” this year, I am excited to check off my bucket list:

Now, I am beyond grateful and thrilled to be chosen as one of the Unlimited International Placement, along with Nolan Stevens, from Johannesburg, South Africa.

My first week in London, working with Unlimited was stimulating, validating, exciting, energizing and exhausting in a beautiful way ALL AT THE SAME TIME! Starting on day one, Nolan and I exchanged our experiences as disabled artists of colour. Even though we are from different parts of the world (I was born and raised in Taiwan until age 16), some of our experiences are strikingly similar. We discussed race and racism in the context of South Africa and in the United States, where I currently reside, and we compared notes on our observations of the issue of race in the UK.

“What was it like to talk/not talk about disability in your family?”

“Oh my gosh, I did that, too! I didn’t want people to think that ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m less than everyone else.’”

“That sucks! That’s totally ableism + racism, I resonate with what you just said!”

“Oh, wow! I don’t want to sound like I just copied your idea, but I had the same idea about disability and fashion many years ago as well!”

Nolan and I talked about how art as a process has provided a channel for each of us to articulate the multitudes of our disability experiences and perspectives. Yet, for a long time, we thought that we were the only ones trying to break the ceilings with disability stigma in the arts. From our conversations, I am reminded again that many of us disabled people often live in isolation and might never get to meet other disabled artists who are also articulating the meanings of disability representations in the art world. I cannot help but wonder, how has each of us navigated our art practices as disabled artists? Where are other politicized disabled comrades and allies in the arts? What has separated us from meeting and working with each other? How do we spread our network and connect with disabled artists and allies who are working in isolation? How do we sustain our practice across the continents and oceans as a collective community?

Working with the Unlimited staff at both ShapeArts and Artsadmin, I felt at home in my role as a disabled arts administrator! I often find myself being along or being one of the few people who advocate for accessibility in the arts (mostly in Taiwan.) With Unlimited, I didn’t need to explain why providing access is equality not charity; there was no need to allocate emotional labour for ablesplaining; I didn’t hear colleagues’ fear or excuses for not providing access to disabled people and disabled artists. I appreciated witnessing the efforts and energy that the team devotes to high-quality work both in supporting disabled arts and accessibility.

My time with Unlimited has already sparked many ideas to pursue in near future. It also validates the work that my colleagues and I have built on both at Bodies of Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Taiwan Access For All Association. What makes me feel hopeful is the international network that the Unlimited has been building in the past few years! Disability is such a complex lived experience and as a bilingual disabled artist whose intersectional identities locate in two countries, I am always enthusiastic about building allyship and network internationally. It was wonderful to take part in conversations and exchange ideas with arts practitioners and delegates from 27 countries during the symposium and festival. I cannot wait to take the conversations, questions and ideas back home and start making plans with my colleagues back home(s)! Stay tuned for my next blog post about my experience at “Pitch & Mix” during the Unlimited festival!