By Jo Verrent, Speaker, writer, activist, and creative producer for arts and disability., UNLIMITED

09 September 2016 - 12:31

Jo Verrent and participants from Arts & Disability Talks at the second day of the session. ©

William Setiawan

In April 2016, creative producer, diversity trainer and consultant Jo Verrent visited Indonesia for an Arts and Disability research and consultancy visit as part of our UK/Indonesia 2016-18 programme. Here she talks about what she experienced during her stay, and what she learnt about disability and the arts in Indonesia.

My visit to Jakarta was a whirlwind of experiences and meetings; a kaleidoscope of potential. I knew I would be working for three days as part of an Arts and Disability research and consultancy visit to Indonesia, but I was less sure of exactly what my trip might involve. The programme on the ground, however, was complete, complex, multilayered and impactful. It felt purposeful and full of promise. 

Day one - What do the arts mean for disabled people in Indonesia?

It was brilliant to see such a mixed group of disabled people (artists, activists, young people) and organisations attending the initial presentation and session on the first day. The British Council staff throughout the office had prepared well yet were still (understandably) nervous as for many of those attending this was to be their first time within the British Council offices – and the first time the offices played host to so many disabled people and access support workers.

The logistics worked well and attendance was high. Given this, I was surprised that the response to the initial material was slightly muted. For some people, there was a clear sense expressed that ‘disabled people in Indonesia can’t be artists’, a call for access and inclusion rather than anything separatist or profiling disability separately and a sense that arts were lower on the agenda for them than access/civil rights in general.

Day two – Indonesian spirit making the impossible become possible.

Having experienced a muted reaction on the first day to the idea of disabled people as artists in Indonesia, I expected the numbers on the second day to drop, for the atmosphere to be cool and to have to work hard. Instead, the opposite happened. 

In hearing about the work of local disabled artists and those interested in art, the group became more and more, not less and less empowered. People who the day before had declared the concept of ‘disabled artists’ to be an impossibility in Indonesia began owning their own artistic interests and talents, and even introducing themselves as artists! The list of groups and people presenting kept increasing, the other contacts kept growing and

"I increasingly fell in love with the Indonesian spirit that appears to make the impossible become possible. I understood that the UK experience is a long way from Indonesia, and people needed routes and context they could own in order to take on board the process."


Visiting various cultural spaces

For me, this was essential. It wasn’t until I was able to experience both the spaces and the Jakarta traffic that I could gain a sense of the access issues facing disabled people, of the placement and profile given to the arts in general, and the role of ‘British’ arts within that. From an open-air cinema to the National Gallery of Indonesia, contemporary galleries and more, it helped create a picture for me of what might (and might not) be possible within Indonesia.

To accommodate the participants, Jo was accompanied by a sign language interpreter and carried on lively discussion about the importance of arts to disabled people.  ©

William Setiawan

What’s Next?

I think there is a real potential for some developmental work focusing on artist exchange/residencies and up-skilling. There is also perhaps a need for discussion around cultural appropriation/involvement. For me, it is essential to ensure our contacts in Indonesia are informed about the UNLIMITED International Placement programme, also for some Indonesian delegates to attend the UNLIMITED Festival in London this year. Looking at the strong fashion programme, I think there are possible opportunities for disabled textile artists.  Overall, I am keen to follow-up possible creative collaborative work between UK and Indonesia.

Are you an artist/creative/producer or organisation interested in working with the British Council as part of our UK/Indonesia 2016-18 programme? Find out how to get involved.