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.

cello rain
Sean Burn, by Mick Marston, based on Burn’s poem, Cello Rain Number 12. Burn writes plays as well as prose and poetry addressing disability. He lives with long-term mental health issues, and became involved with Graeae through its Write to Play scheme, which offers support and development opportunities for deaf and disabled writers.
Ted Evans, by Richard Wilkinson. “Working with Ted was fascinating; he is a great filmmaker,” says Wilkinson. “His film The End … is a personal view of deaf culture and a deaf community, and society’s treatment of it. Ted explained his struggle was more as an artist than a deaf person; no more than anyone else. I wanted to represent the idea that we all use our struggles, burdens and obstacles as artists, we try to use this to our advantage.”

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).

Graeae Dust and RBH
Robin Bray Hurren by Dust. “I’m trans, queer and disabled and though those things have very much shaped my life, they aren’t necessary things I explore explicitly in my work,” says Hurren. “I’m a printmaker and calligrapher, and general craft magpie. I worked with Graeae for nearly six years as their access assistant helping make sure everything was as accessible as possible, but recently left to develop my artistic practice.” Dust’s print is based on Hurren’s work with letters and words and aim to reflect “an organic process”

“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.”

Tilu Mortley by Kerry Hyndman. Mortley is a freelance artist working in theatre, dance and aerial performance, and performed with Graeae at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. “I tried to capture her [Tiiu Mortley’s] determination throughout her life by showing her looking focused and strong in an aerial pose. The spotlights I’ve used represent her motivation to perform,” says Hyndman
Rosaleen McDonagh, by Rose Blake. McDonagh is a member of the Irish traveller community, and a theatre writer and performer. “Feminism and anti-racist agendas inform my activism and my activism informs my theatre writing,” she says. Blake says her print aims to convey McDonagh’s Traveller background, and the importance of the journey in storytelling. The artwork also references landmarks in McDonagh’s career

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.

Stephen Collins by Martin Haake. Collins is an actor and artist and is deaf. He does theatre and film performances as well as running workshops for young people. “Graeae has been uplifting for me… I’ve found a new identity, and I really have been made more proud of who I am,” he says. Haake says he wanted to create a modern take on a classical theatre poster, with the collage representing some of Collins’ achievements
Barbara Lisicki by Toby Lee (Tobatron). “Barbara is involved in Direct Action – going out on the street protesting,” he explains. “We discussed the things you would take along to these protests … the piece of work I created is using the visual language that would normally be associated with instruction manuals”
Nadia Albina, by Susan Burghart. “I did a portrait of Nadia as Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire because that was one her favourite roles…. In the robe there are a variety of quotes and imagery that tie in with Nadia’s background,” explains Burghart
Garry Robson by Jakob Hinrichs. Robson is a freelance actor, writer and director and the artistic director of Glasgow theatre company Birds of Paradise. He has worked with Graeae for several years and been artistic director for a number of deaf and disability festivals. Hinrichs’ print shows Robson’s character in a play titled The Last Freak Show. “I show him very strong and staring into the viewer’s eyes… it’s quite in your face,” adds Hinrichs.
Milton Lopes by Jonny Wan. Lopes is an actor, circus performer and singer and has worked with Graeae since 2003. He also participates in writing, accessibility and drama workshops and performed at the Paralympics Opening Ceremony. Wan says each square of the grid shows something that Lopes holds dear. “On first glance, it’s kind of cryptic … hopefully it will create a talking point,” he says.

More from CR

Brands, not channels: creative thinking in the new TV landscape

The past few months have seen a number of major broadcasters rebrand, from Netflix to Channel 4, MTV and, most recently, Channel 5. In this feature from our forthcoming March issue, Aporva Baxi looks at how the TV landscape is changing – and the challenges and opportunities this presents for creatives and broadcasters

Julian Barnes in conversation with long-term designer, Suzanne Dean

For twenty years, author Julian Barnes has worked with the same book designer, Suzanne Dean, creative director of Vintage. In an interview with journalist Alex Clark, they discuss the design of Barnes’ new novel, The Noise of Time, and their working relationship.

The Creative Review Careers Survey

What motivates you? Pay? Opportunity? The chance to win awards? Are you happy in your work? We surveyed over 3,000 designers and creatives about their career. Here are the results

DBA Design Effectiveness Awards: the winners

The DBA Design Effectiveness Awards celebrate projects that have had a tangible impact on their client’s business. This year’s Grand Prix went to Radley Yeldar for its Great Britain campaign, designed for the British government

Graphic Designer

Fushi Wellbeing

Creative Designer

Monddi Design Agency