Likewise, Tony Grybowski, chairman of the Australian Council of the Arts to date, announced that over the next three years, over $ 750,000, or € 475,000, will be provided through a mentoring program and two newly announced awards for artists with disabilities. Thanks to the continuous work of the umbrella organisation Arts Access Australia and the commitment of all its local sub-associations.
While the event has taken place from year to year in ever-changing places on the Australian continent, last year the conference traveled outside Australia for the first time and hosted the first international Meeting Place in Berlin’s Podewil. The one-day event offered a variety of opportunities to learn about the latest developments in disability art and artists with keynotes, interactive workshops and panel discussions.

Expectations of the Berlin artists

This year, two visual artists from Berlin, Dirk Sorge and Jovana Komnenic, had a great opportunity to pack their bags and first attend the conference in Alice Springs and then make their way to Perth. There, they visited DADAA – Disability in the Arts Disadvantages Artists in the Arts, a non-profit organisation dedicated to artistic development at the community level and presented an interactive exhibition.  In addition to their work as artists, Dirk Sorge and Jovana Komnenic have also co-founded Berlinklusion. Berlinklusion is an initiative that aims to connect disability artists and sensitise institutions, such as museums, to the topic of inclusion, and to help them include people with disabilities in their concepts. In this capacity, Berlinklusion 2017 was also one of the partners of the Berlin Meeting Place, which was largely curated by Jovana Komnenic and her colleague Kate Brehme. The Meeting Place was sponsored by Diversity.Arts.Culture, the Berlin project office for diversity development and the Foerderband eV.

Four people sit on stage with microphones in front of them. Three are blurred. One woman with blonde hair is in focus, and speaks into the microphone.

Jovana Komnenic speaks on the Leading to the Future panel at Meeting Place. Credit: Oliver Eclipse Photography

 

“I knew from the cooperation in the previous year that I would expect a very professional and very warm-hearted cooperation,” says Dirk Sorge. He had been to Australia before and had a pretty concrete idea of ​​the country and its people. “It was a bit like driving to an old friend,” says the artist.

Jovana Komnenic, on the other hand, did not know what to expect, especially in relation to the Australian society. An unfamiliar mixture of young democracy and ancient, Indigenous culture. And so she set out with “respectful openness.”

There was not much time to ponder the imminent experience. In addition to the preparation of various workshops for the three-day conference in Alice Springs and the subsequent exhibition for DADAA in Perth, it was only shortly before departure that the financing of the exchange and visa barriers were overcome. It was not until the actual departure that it was clear that both Dirk Sorge and Jovana Komnenic could embark on the long journey to Down Under. The trip was made possible by Imke Baumann from Förderband eV ., The Goethe-Institut and the German Embassy in Australia.

“In the run-up everything was very, very exhausting. As soon as these problems were solved, all tension fell off of me,” says Jovana Komnenic.

Australian professionalism and lightness

Dirk Sorge, who among other things created computer programs that independently generate art, was particularly impressed by The Other Filmfest, organised by DADAA in Perth. This stood out for him particularly by its high professionalism and also by the broad international film selection.”In general, institutions in Australia focus less on the disabilities of artists, but on their work. It is more customer-oriented and there are loud demands for mainstream. The works of artists with disabilities should take place in the same places and within the same spectrum as those of their non-disabled colleagues,” he said.

In addition, Dirk Sorge noticed how much humour and fun work is done, as well as networking is much denser with each other. Within the German cultural scene, many are muddling about and there are not even surveys on how many artists with disabilities are professionally active.

“First and foremost, I was inspired by lightness and friendliness, by understanding one another and by dealing with problems that was fundamentally solution-oriented. Looking at colleagues whose stance is respect and humility and how they implement them in their work has been really impressive,” notes Jovana Komnenic. “The colloquial language was much less violent and much more polite, as the language we deal with for example in Berlin every day.”

A man in his early thirties speaks into a microphone on stage. He has short brown hair and wears a blue long-sleeved shirt.

Dirk Sorge speaks on the Leading to the Future panel at Meeting Place in Alice Springs. Credit: Oliver Eclipse Photography

 

In her artistic work, Jovana Komnenic uses to a great extent the medium of drawing or forms of artistic expression, each resulting from the theme of the work. She is firmly convinced that in Australia it is not the artists who show a different level of professionalism compared to Germany. For them, another environment makes the difference. A fundamentally more inclusive support of the environment changes the self-image of people with disabilities.

“I hope that we manage to create more open spaces that give everyone respectful access. That people with different backgrounds can get into spaces where we are all just as we are, ” says Jovana Komnenic.

Considering disabilities as qualifications – a change of perspective

Above all, Dirk Sorge and Jovana Komnenic agree that the associations of Australian artists with disabilities, be it Arts Access Australia or DADAA in Perth, interpret the concept of inclusion much broader than we generally do in Germany. Here, the term falls mainly in connection with school structures and the integration of children and young people with disabilities in regular school structures. There is the claim to give access to all people in all areas who feel excluded in any way, be it because of poverty, ethnicity, gender or education.

One of the most important changes of perspective, which the two Berlin artists took home for themselves, was a clear statement from Mallika Macleod, the manager for DADAA in Midland. She assumes in interviews that disability is an additional qualification: “Those with disabilities who have come this far have more abilities than non-disabled candidates. Skills that are needed to find their own place with limitations in a far from inclusive education and work environment.”

This is a clear contrast to the familiar narrative “he or she has made it to the limit despite a disability,” to an approach that makes disability what it should always be: a mosaic in a large and diverse overall picture.

Until the next Meeting Place, which will be held in Canberra from 1 to 3 December 2019, the exchange between Berlin and Australia will be intensified and common forms will be sought in order to further enrich this overall picture.