Saturday, December 10, 2022

Pictures of You

Photography | Brian Rope

Pictures of You | Hilary Wardhaugh

Belconnen Arts Centre | 2–17 December 2022, & 17 January - 5 February 2023

In 2017, Canberran John Brookes was given three months to live. He reached out to an artist to paint a memorial portrait. He is still going five years later and intends to continue for the foreseeable future!

Along the way, Brookes established Canberry Communications - a non-profit that supports communities including those with mental and/or physical disability. It develops arts projects in a range of media for small charities who may not otherwise have the resources to implement them. It believes strongly in giving a voice, enabling people to tell their own stories in unique and thought-provoking ways - looking beyond their 'issues' to the whole person.

This exhibition is the first outcome of one such arts project. Undertaken in collaboration with photographer Hilary Wardhaugh and the Belconnen Arts Centre, it was launched along with a number of other art exhibitions, each celebrating ageing or disability, on the eve of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, held worldwide annually to observe and highlight issues that affect people with disabilities.

More than a photographer, Wardhaugh is an artist, activist/provocateur, volunteer and creator of community. Her creative endeavours bring people together in the pursuit of a better world. Her interests involve the human condition: frailty, irony, contradiction. And she pursues topical and creative projects to highlight themes and issues reflecting those conditions.

Pictures of You takes a unique approach to portraying people with lived experience of being disabled or of being mental health consumers. Each person collaborated as equals with Wardhaugh to produce their portraits honestly reflecting them as whole persons and not just ‘consumers’ – a process that had surprising and inspirational results, both for the subjects and the artist.

The collaborations asked a question - have you ever tried to explain how it is to be YOU? To a friend, a partner, your family, a professional – even to yourself? Now it asks us to imagine having a disability or being a mental health consumer, to think about the prejudices that come with that, and the challenges of engaging people to look beyond our imagined disability to the whole of our personalities.

It is suggested, correctly, that an image: a single depiction of mood, hopes, fears, strengths and personality, can say so much more than words. Imagine having an image that is YOU, that sums up who and what you are, a source of pride that you can keep, display and say…“this is me.”

This is the focus of the Pictures of You exhibition, a modest yet important show highlighting that people with disabilities and mental health consumers are equal to everyone else, have as much to offer and give as the rest of us, are people to be admired and loved just as much as every other person. They have feelings, they have skills and talents, they can do all sorts of things. There are images of individuals and one group shot of some talented, determined, enthusiastic, and absolutely impressive people with disability in the Rebus Theatre family.

Most, perhaps all, of the people portrayed in Wardhaugh’s artworks were present at the opening and gladly lined up for group shots with the artist and others. It was wonderful to see the people alongside their portraits. Bruno would probably have loved to play his guitar for everyone in the large crowd.

Bruno Cirillo © Hilary Wardhaugh

The Rebus folk no doubt would also have loved to perform show their talents.

Rebus © Hilary Wardhaugh

Go take a look and ask yourself who these portrayed people are.

Arto © Hilary Wardhaugh

Eleanor Waight © Hilary Wardhaugh

Glen © Hilary Wardhaugh

Melissa Hammond © Hilary Wardhaugh

Some other photographic artworks amongst the companion exhibitions are also well worth seeing. Indeed, I encourage you to see all the exhibitions.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times here and then printed on 10/12/22. It is also available on the author's blog here.