CIA teams up with theatre company Graeae for new illustration exhibition
Artists at Central Illustration Agency have partnered with deaf and disabled writers and performers from theatre company Graeae to create a series of prints celebrating the company’s 35th anniversary and the experiences of its members
Graeae is run by artistic director Jenny Sealey. The company puts on plays with deaf and disabled artists, and integrates sign language, captioning and audio descriptions into productions. In 2012, it won the Promotion of Diversity Award at the UK Theatre Awards and Sealey was co-artistic director of the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony.
The collaboration with CIA aims to showcase Graeae’s work over the past three decades: over 40 illustrators signed to the agency were paired with someone from Graeae and created a print based on their conversations with them.
Some prints are inspired by particular performances or pieces of work – Mick Marston has illustrated a poem by writer Sean Burns, titled Cello Rain Number 12 (above) – while others draw on actors and writers’ accounts of being in Graeae and the difference it has made to their lives.
Benjamin Cox, MD of CIA, says he became familiar with Graeae’s work after moving in to a nearby office in Shoreditch and wanted to collaborate with the company. (Illustrator Peter Blake is also a patron of the company).
“In the beginning, we didn’t know whether we might work with them doing set design or costume design but the more we talked about it, we thought this kind of blind date partnership would be really fun, marrying our people with some of their people. I rather liked the idea of getting our illustrators away from the strict confines and parameters of commercial work where there’s a structured brief, and something to sell, and letting them have more of an open and free discussion with an equally creative person from a different discipline.
“We were conscious of the fact that members of the disabled community were facing a punch because the Independent Living Fund was about to be scrapped – something a lot of Graeae’s members had been very reliant on – so initially, we saw it as an opportunity to shine a light on that issue. But when we started talking to the artists, everyone was very optimistic and upbeat …. they didn’t want to be attached to political angst. But we are highlighting the fact that these people are here producing great work despite facing a lot of challenges.”
Reframing the Myth is on display in the ground floor foyer of the The Guardian, King’s Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU until February 26. Admission is free and the show is wheelchair accessible. Audio descriptions and a braille leaflet are also available.
Lead image (top): David Ellington by Anna Higgie. Ellington has worked with Graeae since 2003: “They really open doors for me, and provide me with lots of opportunities to raise my profile, to perform in front of a wider audience, to develop my skills when there are no such opportunities in the mainstream,” says Ellington. Higgie says she wanted to capture the elegance of sign language – “the hands are in motion, and much bigger than the figures on sway poles, making it feel quite surreal…The words in colours of the rainbow [aim] to bring out David’s character,” she adds.