Artist and Youth Worker
Do I consider myself to be a leader – that’s a good question. I think I do, in many ways because I am who I am and I work the way I do.
I wish there were more people doing the stuff I do. I would like to change things so that more people could. I think it’s about people sharing their journeys – it’s very powerful when you think that I started in the special school system, did factory work whilst in a residential home and now I’m running workshops all over the place and working with both non-disabled and disabled people. My career journey is very unusual. I don’t think there have been so many learning disabled artists doing what I do… I’d like there to be more, to hand it over to more people.
Do I lead in the way I am with people? I do actually tell people off, but I try and do it in a constructive way. If you always tell people off, you can put people’s back’s up. I’ve learnt to tell people why you are telling them what you are telling them and to do it in a cool, calm collected way.
My big vision for my life is to try and give everybody access to the arts – whether they want to watch it or get their hands dirty
I have a number of identities. I would say that I was British Chinese and a community based artist who happens to have a learning disability. I think it’s just that as an individual, I still feel that people will make a judgement when they hear the words ‘learning disability’ and in their heads they might tarnish me with a brush! Most people think that all of us with learning disabilities sit around do basket weaving.
That’s not us and it sure ain’t me. My Chinese heritage is really extremely important to me. People’s attitudes are still difficult to disability. See the ability rather than the disability has always been my motto. Disability is in there - of course, it is.
I have felt bad when things have happened to me. I’ve felt frightened and alone in the past. I think now if someone criticises me as a person, I won’t stand for it, unless I deserve it of course; but if it’s because they make a judgement about my disability, then no, I’ll speak up. And if they don’t like my art, then that’s fine… it’s a matter of opinion. Some people like it, some people don’t.
Bad things – well it’s a decision really…..you can wallow in it and really that’s not going to get you anywhere. Better to try and learn from it, move on from it or away from it. My motto would be ‘turn a negative into a positive….’ When I was a young person, and I was in a disability youth scheme, I belonged, of course. When I went back to some of the same places when I was training to be a youth worker – some people made me feel I didn’t belong. It ruffled a few feathers: someone like me shouldn’t be in that space, and certainly not in control or running sessions. I thought umm, I’m either going to feel really bad about this and believe them or I’ll have to develop through it… I wanted to work with kids and teenagers more than anything and in order to do that I realised I had to work twice as hard, to make sure people could see the quality of what I was doing and then not question my leadership!
My mum told me that I could have been sent to a specialist arts college at 11 but the person who could have made that happen, did their back in and I missed the opportunity but hey, I went ahead anyway and did it for myself. But still you know people look at me and say ‘why the heck have you got a youth work qualification and BTEC?’ So I’m a bit like the Starship Enterprise… ‘I’ve boldly gone where no man has gone before’… or someone like me any way.
I know I don’t look like a leader – I’m not a suit-and-tie guy. I think my idea of a leader is to communicate well and really, really listen to other people’s ideas and point them, steer them in to seeing themselves more clearly – what they are doing that holds them back…. So that is why I choose to look comfortable. If I wore a suit I think people would think that I was part of the system. I can do that system thing. I have worked with Somerset House and all The Tates and I can get a feel of it, but for me, it’s what’s inside, what drives that person rather than what they are wearing.