Friends of TFS

Rights Not Charity

Gill Crawshaw

10—July 2024

We know there are an incredibly diverse group of disabled creatives in our community, and Disability Pride Month has us talking about disability visibility and allyship. We meet curator and disability activist Gill Crawshaw on Friends of TFS this week!

Friends of TFS — Gill Crawshaw
Jul 10 2024

Meet Gill, a Leeds-based curator who draws on her experience of disability activism to organise art exhibitions and events which highlight issues affecting disabled people. Gill is interested in the intersection of disabled people’s lives with textile heritage in the north of England, as well as with contemporary textile arts. This week we caught up briefly with Gill about her journey with disability activism and her book Rights Not Charity, which we're giving away three copies of over on Instagram, until Saturday 13th July.

Gill zine
Hi Gill, would you be able to tell us a little about yourself and how you became involved in disability activism?

I’m a disabled person, based in Leeds in the north of England. In recent years I’ve been curating art exhibitions and organising other events and projects. Mainly I work with disabled artists on projects about disability rights and disabled people’s lives.

This is a change of role for me, having worked in a different field for most of my career. Although I’ve always been interested and engaged with the arts. One area that keeps drawing me back is textiles, perhaps because I did a degree in textile design in Leeds many years ago. So I’ve become interested in the intersections of textiles and disabled people’s lives, whether that’s contemporary disabled artists who use textiles in their work, or the history and heritage of the textile industry, which was the defining industry of Yorkshire and the north of England.

I got involved in disability activism in the 1980s, at first through disability arts and culture, which led me on to the wider disabled people’s movement. I was one of the founder members of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, known as DAN, a national network committed to non-violent civil disobedience, set up in 1993.

I’m now trying to bring my past experience of activism into my curatorial practice, although perhaps in a more subtle way.

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You have curated many exhibitions which have addressed representation of disabled artists, could you tell us about your favourite or the exhibition you are most proud of?

I’m really proud of Any Work That wanted Doing, an exhibition that was part of Leeds 2023 Year of Culture.

It was developed from research I’d been doing into disabled people who worked in textile mills. I wanted to challenge the dominant narrative of disabled people being dependent and needy, and show that they were and are part of society, contributing and having a valuable role.

It was exciting to be able to commission some disabled artists to create work that responds fed to the research, and that linked disabled people’s lives today with disabled people in the past. The artists made fabulous work in a range of media. It was shown for several months amongst the collection of historic textile machinery at Leeds Industrial Museum, which was once the largest woollen mill in the world, which was amazing. Thanks to the museum for being such a supportive partner in the project, as well as to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Leeds 2023.

You can see the artwork, the artists’ statements, an overview of the research and more on the exhibition’s website:

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Any Work Exhibition
Was “Rights Not Charity” a natural progression from your previous work or was there a moment that sparked the idea for the book?

It was a natural progression, part of my focus on connections between textiles and disabled people. This focus began a few years ago when I organised an exhibition called Shoddy, which showed textile art by disabled artists:

I began researching all sorts of topics that brought disabled people and textiles together. Since then, I’ve developed some of my thoughts and blog posts further, including a post about disability rights banners. I was familiar with many of the banners I wrote about, having seen them in demos and, in the case of the DAN banners, protested alongside them.

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Have you written any other texts that might be of interested to our readers on this topic?

I think your readers will particularly enjoy an illustrated essay I wrote for Disability Arts Online about the connections between contemporary disabled women textile artists and disabled needleworkers of the past:

In the About section of the Any work that wanted doing website, scroll down to find some links to writing about my research into disabled mill workers, including a zine:

And there’s another zine focused on one 19th century mill worker, A Handsome Testimonial:

If you want to contact me for more information, I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch via the Any work that wanted doing website or message me on Instagram @gillcrawshaw

A very warm thank you to Gill for chatting with us this week, we hope you've enjoyed this Friends of TFS interview - head over and follow Gill via Instagram for more of her work, and have a read of her book Rights Not Charity. Common Threads are offering code DPM10 for 10% off this zine throughout Disability Pride Month!

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