Please share a bit about you and your artistic background.
Well, where to start! Creativity was always my form of therapy. I was the introverted emo teenager who struggled with depression and anxiety, drawing was always my outlet. For years I wanted to become a tattoo artist but never had the confidence. I finally bit the bullet at seventeen when I went to Croydon School of Art. Croydon changed me. It inspired me. Gave me the confidence to grow, to communicate, and I fell in love with graphic design. I am also disabled. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, and by the time I finished college, my disability was getting in the way. I kept drawing. Kept designing, but for a few years stopped my education journey. In 2017, I joined the Graphic and Media Design BA at London College of Communication and fell in love. I didn’t want to be a tattoo artist anymore. I wanted to change the world. I learnt how to use my design skills to communicate my story, communicate things I had been through. Learnt how to use design to solve societal problems. In 2022 I graduated from my BA and went on to my MA in Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures. I used this fifteen months to purely focus on disability and accessibility, and it was through this masters I took the time to set up. The Accessibility Project.
How is your work influenced or informed by mental health?
Everything I do is influenced by my story. I don’t believe in creating work on something I don’t know or haven’t experienced. My voice should be used to improve the world from my perspective, my privilege should be used to support other voices. I have suffered with mental health since I can remember. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at eleven, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder at seventeen. My work is my therapy. I also aspire for my work to be a supporting friend to those going through similar things. Outside my work on disability, I have created a lot of work around grief, sexuality, domestic violence and addiction. I believe creativity is a beautiful form of therapy, and it has saved me time and time again.
Do you feel that your creative practices help with your mental health and wellbeing?
The short answer? 100% yes. Creativity is my therapy. Personally, for me, counselling never really worked. I am a HUGE advocate for counselling, but it just doesn’t work for me. Creativity has pulled me out of some very dark places. I do a lot of work around grief. Unfortunately, I have lost far too many people before their time. Celebrating their life through creativity, and creating work around my feelings, is a release. Publicly I show my work, but I. also have a catalogue of work which I guess are my own personal counselling sessions. I advocate a lot for art therapy, and really want to change the perception that you must be ‘good’ at art to undertake art therapy. Using creativity as a healing tool isn’t about being the next famous artist, it’s about healing.
Can you tell me about The Accessibility Project?
The Accessibility Project is a social enterprise that researches, challenges and breaks down accessibility barriers in society. During Covid-19 it was highlighted just how large the stigma towards disability truly is, but also how isolated the disabled and vulnerable are. This should NOT be the case. The Project works with local communities to support these groups of people become active members of the community again, which in affect will reduce isolation and poor mental health. We do this by working with grassroots organisations and charities and running different events and workshops for everybody to attend, and that are accessible for all!
The project also works with those who aren’t vulnerable or disabled and looks at how we can change negative perspectives towards this group of people to create a more inclusive society. Only if we all work together can we make our society accessible.
Over the next few years, and through the undertaking of my PhD starting hopefully in 2023, the project will also explore how we can work with medical services to provide holistic care services for those who are disabled and vulnerable to not just improve their medical treatment, but improve their socialisation.
Can you tell me about some of the previous projects you have been involved in?
Where to start? I have done a lot! Through my own personal work, I have explored how we deal with grief. It has always fascinated me how in general, the eastern world celebrate death, and we fear it. I’ve done a fair bit of work around how we approach death and grief, and how we need to start talking about it to take the fear and stigma out of it, it’s not something we can run away from.
I’ve also explored sex education. I am a proud gay female. I also ended up in an abusive. relationship. I am a survivor of physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Yet, I didn’t know how to deal with it, or where to get support. All support around domestic violence is targeted at heterosexual women. I decided to create a campaign focused towards LGBTQI+ survivors of domestic violence, as well as explored and designed an educational programme which could be taken into schools.
The Accessibility Project exhibition.
Abi & Nicki with 'My Story Is My Power' mural.
I have also run workshops in the community. Most recently I collaborated with an amazing mural artist, Nicki Deux and we ran a workshop at Southwark Library called ‘Paint your story.’ The workshop allowed participants to come and paint a canvas mural, ‘My story is my Power.’ They came and painted a circle and wrote their story in the circle. We then talked about how the things we go through in life can be used to make us rather than break us. We can turn it into our strength to change the world.
Any lessons you have learned from your artistic journey and founding The Accessibility Project?
You’re not always going to get it right, and that’s okay. You’re not expected to know everything, and you’ll always be learning. As a creative, I always used to be so focused on getting things ‘perfect’ but it’s okay not to get it perfect, in fact, the beauty lies in the imperfections. I also learnt you need to take breaks, especially when working on subjects that you have directly been through. Creativity can be your therapy, but if you don’t take breaks and become all consumed in the subject you’re working on, it can make things worse. You need to step away, breathe, relax, do something else, and then come back to it.
As for The Accessibility Project, I am learning every day. Accessibility is different for everybody, and I need to be aware of that and take it into consideration. I am always open to directions and opinions because this isn’t just my journey, it’s a journey to improve accessibility on the whole.
What’s next for you?
Now this is a big question! I am aiming to undertake my PhD in 2023, which will explore more of the medical side of improving accessibility. In the meantime, The Accessibility Project is going to be super busy. From working with universities to grassroots organisations. The aim of 2022 is to really get The Accessibility Project off the ground and to start making changes.
The Accessibility Project workshop.