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Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

The Paralympics now on in Rio have brought into focus the topic of equitability. As world-class Paralympic athletes compete for gold medals in the same sports as Olympic athletes just a few weeks ago, it is clear that this separation is not what one might call "inclusive." The athletes of the Paralympics are separated not based on their abilities - but rather on disabilities - as they compete for the medals.

A new traveling art exhibition in Germany, "Kunst trotz(t) Handicap" or "Art despite handicap" wants to draw attention to the subject of inclusion. With more than 200 exhibits, the exhibition resembles any other representative of contemporary art: a mixture of abstract and modern paintings, print graphics, sculptures and photo images. Video artworks and documentary photographs put those with disabilities in a variety of perspectives.

The works have been created by over 100 artists - some with and some without disabilities. What's unusual: Just one-third of the artworks were created by people who do not have disabilities, said curator Andreas Pitz.

"We intentionally chose the word 'handicap' as it is a very broad term. That means there are artists included who have very different handicaps: people with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, those who are psychologically ill or addicts.

The artworks are posted side by side without any mention of what, if any, disability its creator has. The idea is to put the art in the foreground, not the background or personal situation of the artist.

Art at eye-level

"In many of the institutes that offer assistance to those with disabilities or to those places where psychiatric help is offered, people's artistic talents are furthered," Pitz told DW.

There are likewise studios and ateliers which have special offers where creatively talented people with hindrances can develop their talents further. These works are hung alongside the artworks created by artists with academic training, some of whom themselves have disabilities.

A third group of well-known artists were chosen for inclusion in the exhibit who have already created a name for themselves in the scene and are ready to apply themselves and their work for the project to benefit those with disabilities.

For many of those artists with disabilities, the pride they have in having their work displayed in famous museums and exhibition halls, alongside works by famous living artists, is palpable."It's a fascinating exchange of roles. If I take an artist with a disability under my guidance, the disability no longer plays a role and what remains is the artist." For the curator, it's clear: "In art, a person no longer has a disability."

An elaborate effort

For the better part of a year, Andreas Pitz traveled through Germany before he could get the exhibition off the ground in 2015. He visited studios and workshops, spoke to artists and viewed thousands of artworks personally. For him, the deciding factor was that the artwork had to be good and sophisticated.

"To me, a good artist is one which has developed a style that is unmistakable. In other exhibitions, there are a large number of artists who have developed a language of their own that makes their work distinctive."

A further element that Pitz took into consideration while deciding which artworks to include was that, "in order to stay true to the exhibition's motto, the artist is confronting in his or her work those disabilities or things that stand in their way."

This is especially evident in the works by those with the mentally ill, who the curator says make the "monster arrestingly clear."

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