IETM Hull sparks residency invite: Blog from first disabled artist to benefit from i-Portunes fund: Diana Niepce

Following a meeting at IETM Hull, between a Portuguese artist and a Polish theatre company, Diana Niepce received a residency invitation by Teatr21 in Warsaw. Supported by Creative Europe's pilot mobility scheme, i-Portunes, Diana has now completed the residency, and here describes the experience. 

This article first appeared on Disability Arts International - the Britsh Council's global Arts & Disability directory and newsletter. https://www.disabilityartsinternational.org/resources/from-portugal-to-poland-coming-to-warsaw-as-an-international-disabled-artist-in-residence/

The first disabled artist to receive the EU’s i-Portunus fund, Portuguese dancer Diana Bastos Niepce speaks about her experience undertaking a residency in Poland with learning disabled-led company Teatr 21. During the residency, Diana collaborated with the choreographer Justyna Wielgus, performing in her directorial debut “PokaZ” at Warsaw’s Zachęta National Gallery of Art. The piece interrogated the act of looking, what we see and what remains hidden, the limitations that stereotypes place on our identities – a challenge to the ‘socially acceptable’.

Diana is a Europe Beyond Access artist, also taking part in the second laboratory hosted by project partner Skånes Dansteater in Malmö, Sweden. Learn more about Diana’s work on her artist profile page.

“I would like to think of my stay in Poland as if it was my best friend’s house but it wasn’t. I would like to say that it felt like home but that’s not quite right either. I landed in Warsaw on 9 November 2019 and in the process my wheelchair tyres got punctured. Now every time that someone pushes it, my chair goes to the left. I can’t overlook how new environments often present such frustrations – difficulties that artists without non-normative mobility wouldn’t experience during a residency – however, if I Ieave this initial memory in a drawer full of dust, I like to look at Warsaw as an encounter that chance destined and introduced me to an artist that remains today in a little portion of my heart.

On the first night of my residency, I met some of the others that I’d be working with on the project ‘Crossing the Line’. In a bustling restaurant with lots of noise and new people, I sit with choreographer Justyna Wielgus at my side. We are two strangers but we laugh about that fact that Theatr21 is a company managed by three Justynas. This Justyna introduces me to Lennard Davis (Professor in Disability Studies and author of Enforcing Normalcy and The End of Normal) and, without understanding the magnitude of this conversation at the time, I still had a strange feeling that what we spoke about would grow in importance to me during my time here.

Trying to find a way out of the same old narrative about the “dancer who became quadriplegic, the performer that starts to walk again, the activist that bothers Portuguese theatres”, we dive into a discussion about how norms are formed and where this leads us. We tussle with the way that disabled people are seen by society and that’s when it happened – a light emerges in my head. I know now what I must investigate in my dissertation. The human monster, the hybridism of the body and its perspectives.

During my artist residency with Teatr21,  I gained a new familiarity with Justyna Wielgus’ choreographic techniques and practice, I was able to get funding for research trips, an assistant and before I knew it, the residency had gone from a few days to a month with a final presentation at Zachęta, the National Gallery of Art.

I was able to work with some incredible Polish artists – Maciej Kasprzak, Michał Pęszyński, Aleksandra Skotarek, Wojciech Stępień, Helena Urbańska, Katarzyna Żeglicka – as we challenged the fascist processes of creating norms that dictate how we should appear, present ourselves and exist in the world.

Each with our own specificity and unique bodies, we worked together to investigate how people are excluded from society, how marginalisation takes place, and the patterns of behaviour that  reinforce these social barriers. I wanted to create a reflection that mirrors both the beauty and the violence of bodies at the margins and how these unique bodies have a crucial importance to the cultural sector.

It was in Warsaw that for the first time I found a gaze that composes a melody that keeps up with my energy and eagerness to make noise and challenge people. This gaze from a new audience and collaborators, this is what felt like home. It was nurturing, supportive, and took my creative practice up a gear, building on everything I’d done before. In the sharing of my work in Poland, I discovered that precious unison of synergies that makes us whole as artists whilst also taking us out of our comfort zone. As Lennard told me on more than one occasion, ‘Let your beauty sing’.”