5 Artists Challenging Normativity

How can art and artists help us to recalibrate our conceptions of what is societally normal, acceptable, or possible? This fall, we’re spotlighting artists who examine and shift boundaries between marginal and mainstream in order to include those who have been excluded, and to transform societies to become more just and inclusive.

“Madlove: A Designer Asylum” installation view. Photo: Wellcome Collection, via madlove.org.uk.

1. Collaboratively designing a space to experience mental distress
Madlove is a collaborative project by artists Hannah Hull and the vacuum cleaner (AKA James Leadbitter) to envision and model a blueprint for a psychiatric hospital informed by the experiences and needs of those with mental illness. Through workshops, surveys, research, and test models, Madlove is collecting data and feedback to work towards building an optimized place to experience mental distress—a utopian mental health center or psychiatric ward. Their process brings together people with mental illness, mental health professionals and academics, artists, and designers.
Watch a short film to learn more about Madlove’s workshops and see an early iteration of a collectively designed space

Fat Blokes performance. Photo: Holly Revell via scottee.co.uk.

2. Centering fatness through performance art
Scottee is a UK-based artist who created the performance Fat Blokes with, for, and about fat men. The performance prompts audiences to examine Western cultural notions of beauty, desirability and masculinity and how these ideals inform the way we value or de-value various bodies. Fat Blokes amplifies the voices and experiences of fat men and rebels against the notion that fat bodies should strive to transform themselves, or that we culturally regard fat people only in relation to their bodies.
Watch a short trailer of Fat Blokes

Visitors choose from a menu of topics to discuss one-on-one with dancers at a Feminist Strip Club event. Photo: Boris Oicherman.

3. Advocating for labor rights in the sex work field
Artist Monica Sheets and a community of erotic dancers in Minneapolis work together as the Feminist Strip Club, a collective focused on creating dialogue around labor structures and stigma in the sex work sector. The collective collaborates with researchers and labor organizers to create public events, performances, exhibitions, and print media around issues they face as sex workers and their vision for a more equitable field.
Listen to members of Feminist Strip Club discuss their work

Sins Invalid’s 10 Principles of Disability Justice. Via sinsinvalid.org.

4. Celebrating artists with disabilities
Sins Invalid is a Bay Area-based performance group highlighting disabled artists of color and LGBTQ+ or gender variant performers. The collective develops and presents multidisciplinary performance work that centers societally non-normative bodies and explores sexuality and cultural conceptions of beauty and functionality. They offer educational workshops for individuals and community based organizations about how to integrate disability justice and social justice principles into their work and lives.
Explore Sins Invalid’s political education curriculum

Community futurisms workshop led by Black Quantum Futurism. Image courtesy RAVA films.

5. Exploring alternative temporality 
Working collectively as Black Quantum Futurism, artists Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips use an Afrofuturist framework to educate and empower black communities to manifest their own expansive futures, in opposition to the history of oppression perpetuated by racism and disinvestment in these communities. Through workshops, creative research projects, performance, writing, and other forms, the collective reframes time and reality as fluid, malleable concepts, subverting the Western conception of linear time and facilitating preservation of cultural histories.
Watch a short film about Black Quantum Futurism’s project Community Futurisms: Time and Memory in North Philly 


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Black Quantum FuturismInnovationMadloveMonica SheetsNormativityPowerScotteeSins Invalid
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