Blog / Texts

7 Emerging Artists Working to Break Down Barriers in the Arts

POSTED: 29 October 2021

What it is really like to build a creative career as disabled, neurodiverse and barrier-facing individuals in the arts? What radical approaches, cultural ideas, business models and dynamic strategies can be employed in order to sustain a career and break through the barriers within the creative industries? Autograph has teamed up with Shape Arts and a cohort of seven artists to find out, as part of our Transforming Leadership project

Disabled representation in the UK arts is concerning, with only 6% of people working within publicly-funded National Portfolio Organisations in the UK identifying as disabled, compared with 21% of the working-age population [source].

We're working over two years to support the artists involved in the project to develop their practice and creative careers, and support their work breaking down barriers in the arts. Keep scrolling to see some of the work they're creating.

Thompson Hall

Thompson Hall, Living On a Bread Line, 2019

Thompson Hall, Polluted World, 2018

Thompson Hall, Housing Crisis, 2019

Through abstracted symbols and text, Thompson Hall’s work explores the inequalities of society and the world around him, in regards to politics, social change, marginalisation and, most recently, the impact that Covid-19 is having on our society.

"In my work I explore my everyday experiences and the situations I find myself in. I then use these observations to create flat and patterned compositions. My use of colour has been described as spontaneous, using my palette to express the feelings and emotions I want to create. I use recognisable symbols in my work to give visual references to the subjects I’ve chosen. They are like news images in a 'more abstract' than true to life way."

Kin (Cultura Plasmic Inc)
With Every Fibre, 2020

Kin (Cultura Plasmic INC) is a working-class new media artist and essayist from Newcastle upon Tyne and currently based in Glasgow. Her postmedia work With Every Fibre traverses both city streets and virtual space, designed during the Covid-19 pandemic and in response to increasing pressures on communications, social cohesion and the urgent need to mend disconnect and isolation.

Subverting the format of a job advert, With Every Fibre is an intervention that takes place on job listings platforms to re-direct people to the decentralised web and challenge the monopolistic power of (and capitalist social relations encouraged by) Big Tech. Through both imagery and text, With Every Fibre highlights the importance of care work, empathy, healing and capacity for dialogue, and how the need for these has been exacerbated by the commodification of human interactions.

Conor Powell
INK, 2021

Conor Powell is a London-based filmmaker and multi-media artist. Their work incorporates illustration, moving image and humour to challenge perspectives on disability, neurodiversity and mental health and takes a surreal genre-based approach.

"INK is an animated video diary that reflects on neurodiversity, creative expression, and identity. It was made during the 2020/2021 lockdown and features voice notes from myself at various points discussing my condition and my inner thoughts. I created the short film to open a dialogue about neurodiversity as often in the media we are portrayed with people without a thought and emotion. I used the film to express myself in a creative way."


Maral Mamaghanizadeh, If You Want To Be Alive... Read My Lips! 2019

Maral Mamaghanizadeh, If You Want To Be Alive... Read My Lips! 2019

Maral Mamaghanizadeh, If You Want To Be Alive... Read My Lips! 2019

Maral Mamaghanizadeh combines her jewellery making practice utilising materials such as ceramic and human hair with elements of performance, film and sound art to explore the barriers she encounters in everyday life, being a Deaf Iranian woman, a Sign Language user and a refugee.

"If You Want to Be Alive… Read My Lips! is inspired by my own experience of being a Deaf woman seeking asylum in the UK. A range of bone china earpieces are central to the work, designed in collaboration with artist Chris Wight and carved with marks, patterns and feminist protest poems written in my native language of Farsi. I invite the audience to wear these pieces of ceramic jewellery over their ears, to deepen their understanding of how it feels to communicate through lip reading, and consider issues around the politics of voice, sound and translation."

Chris Miller
Me As Venus, 2017


Chris Miller, Me As Venus, 2017

Chris Miller is a writer and a self-described outsider artist working in painting, pottery and drawing. Utilising the visual language of art from the past, Miller places his own body and identity at the centre of his work as a way of communicating with, and fitting into the wider world and in order to explore the changes he experienced as a result of becoming disabled.

"I was disabled by a stroke on my right side in 2013, and after this I started to make art. I often paint in thick acrylics, reworking famous art works to incorporate my changed body instead of the key figure. My art obsessively tries to explore my disabled body and how it fits into the world. With this work I wanted to question the whole concept of beauty and disability."

Dexter McLean
Rocko, 2020


Dexter McLean, Rocko, 2020

Dexter McLean's documentary and portrait photography is concerned with addressing fundamental flaws in the representations of the disabled community in mainstream media and elsewhere.

"This is Rocko, who I met on the street whilst working on Tower Avenue, a photographic series taken in Olympic Gardens - a small town in Jamaica where my family and I originated. Rocko builds furniture for a living. He is wearing a T-shirt with Andrew Holness (the prime minister of Jamaica) on it, which complements the political nature of my work. Rocko was working when I took the photograph, which you can see from the pencil behind his ear and the paint on his arms.

This photograph is a prime example of what I want to do in the future; focus on those with disabilities in Jamaica, to bring awareness to a wider audience about the difficulty of living with a disability in a developing country. Rocko's crutch is rudimentary, which highlights the need for greater support for disabled communities in the Caribbean. Despite this Rocko, and many others, continue to work in a manner no different to the able bodied.”


Revell Dixon is a London-based freelance filmmaker and video producer, with a commitment to representing disabled people and disability issues through his work.

"Interactive Mobility is my YouTube channel dedicated to raising awareness and breaking down the barriers disabled people face in today’s society. I want the channel to provide disabled people with a platform to share their views on the subjects that they care about the most, and use it to document important work and stimulate debate on key issues in the arts like identity, disability and representation."


Can you spare a few moments? Autograph is carrying out a survey to better understand who our digital audiences are. The survey should take no longer than five minutes to complete. Anything you tell us will be kept confidential, is anonymous and will only be used for research purposes.

The information you provide will be held by Autograph and The Audience Agency, who are running the survey on our behalf. In compliance with GDPR, your data will be stored securely and will only be used for the purposes it was given.

You can take the survey here. Thank you!

P R O J E c t   P a r t n e r

Part of Shape's Transforming Leadership programme, on which Autograph is proud to be a key partner.

Banner image: Maral Mamaghanizadeh, If You Want To Be Alive... Read My Lips! [film still], 2019.

Images on page: 1) Thompson Hall, Living On A Breadline, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 100cm. © and courtesy of the artist. Photo: ActionSpace. 2) Thompson Hall, Polluted World, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 180 x 130cm. © and courtesy of the artist. 3) Thompson Hall, Housing Crisis, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 100cm. © and courtesy of the artist. 4-5) Kin (Cultura Plasmic Inc.) With Every Fibre, 2020. Films © and courtesy of the artist. 6) Dexter McLean, Rocko, 2020. © and courtesy of the artist. 7-10) Maral Mamaghanizadeh, If You Want To Be Alive... Read My Lips!, 2019. © and courtesy of the artist. 11) Chris Miller, Me As Venus, 2017. Acrylic on board. © and courtesy of the artist. 12) Conor Powell, INK, 2021. Film © and courtesy of the artist. 13) Revell Dixon, Welcome to Interactive Mobility, 2020. Film © and courtesy of the artist.

Discover more images: 1) © and courtesy Kin. 2) Thompson Hall, Lockdown Legacy [detail], 2020. Image courtesy of ActionSpace. 3) Sharif Persaud, Untitled, 2017. Courtesy of Project Art Works 4) Dexter McLean, Kymarley [detail], from Untitled, 2020. © and courtesy the artist. Commissioned by Autograph for Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other.