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Rachel Gadsden

Rachel Gadsden


As some one who spends most of my life working in an art studio alone, it could be argued that issues of leadership are perhaps beyond my experience and sensibility.

But as an individual who has also spent my life living with disability, it is interesting to consider how the characteristics that make for successful leadership are perhaps also some of the personal characteristics that have enabled me to survive, literally, and despite my impairments and to be able to find success in the competitive art world. I am currently the first artist in residence at Hampton Court Palace and not because I am disabled, in this case the 'win' was incidental to this.

I consider myself lucky that at a particularly early age I became conscious (through successive resuscitation) of both how fragile and strong the human condition is. This early awareness brought me a sense of freedom and has continued, somehow, to be a motivation throughout my life. There is nothing to lose!

The surprises that my condition sprung upon me gave me the strength to be the individual I wanted to be, to share and use my obvious vulnerability and sense of freedom to perhaps awaken a consciousness in others through artistic endeavour; to express and to find a way of sharing with others, that despite our fragility and different ways of being, we all have the fundamental right to be to part of and to be able to contribute and participate, on a level playing field, in our society.

My artistic career has taken me to street children projects in Colombia, to leading art projects in British towns where the failure of industry and poverty has threatened to obliterate and wipe out the moral fibre of the community, to a young offenders institute where lack of education prevented development and to derelict asylum hospitals where the lost souls and voices of our past and present society still inhabit the ruins. These experiences have enriched my consciousness and helped me, perhaps, to understand what it is to be human on all levels. It is this knowledge that I bring to my artwork, a universal experience.

So despite spending hours alone in my studio in front of a canvas, on reflection, I am conceivably a leader, and someone who does have the capacity to bring about change through my role as a artist and disabled individual who has witnessed and experienced the many barriers that exist.

I can only hope that doors will still open that enable me to share my experience so that I can continue to contribute to bringing about a sea change where every individual within our society has the respect and understanding that they deserve.