excepts from Moving Over the Edge, Artists with Disabilities Take the Leap
by Pamela Kay Walker


Pgs. 54-55
Chapter Five Who Is Art?

I CAME ALIVE IN BERKELEY! Some called it a disability Mecca, others call it a disability ghetto. There are so many people with disabilities living in the Bay Area that Berkeley has become one of the most accessible cities in the world.

Some of the access is subtle, like a lack of stares as one travels down the sidewalk in a wheelchair. Other types of access are related to disability being so natural that a waiter taking an order from a person with a physical disability automatically asks if the customer would like their meat cut up. In so many ways I hadn’t realized how many architectural and attitudinal barriers were oppressing me until I moved to a town where they were missing.

In an environment that is not only accessible, but provides a supportive community, it’s only natural that artists with disabilities would emerge and flourish. Although all the pioneers of the Disability Arts Movement deserve recognition, I have chosen four artists to focus on. I present these artists to you because their lives demonstrate variety in respect to art types, their disabilities, their influence on me, and choices they made along their creative paths.

Dave DeWeerd, Kathy Martinez, Frank Moore, and Cheryl Marie Wade have all explored a variety of forms in their art, though each specializes in a different area. All of them performed on stage, probably Frank the most and Dave the least. Kathy and Frank were born with their disabilities; Cheryl and Dave became disabled over time, beginning in mid-childhood. I have interacted with each of them to various degrees, Frank the least and Dave almost 24/7 for five years. All of them lived in Berkeley at the time when I began to let the artist in me out of the closet.

These four artists have greatly impacted me and many people through their artistic expressions and their lives. They are some of the artists who taught me, directly and indirectly, that I was an artist. I present them here in the order that they entered my life.

Pgs. 57-60

Frank Moore is a thin, wiry man with a body full of energy. His arms and legs spasm and shake with the beat of cerebral palsy. His speech is difficult to understand, so he often communicates by using a pointer on his head to indicate words or letters on a board.
Frank typically dresses in tie-dyed clothes from head to toe, and his power wheelchair is brightly decorated. He wears humongous glasses and drools through his misshapen teeth. Wild hair flies around his head and his chin is covered by a straggly beard.

Have I just described an erotic genius?


Frank usually has a crowd of people around him, adoring him, touching him, being close to him. He has helped many people learn about their erotic energies and to express themselves more fully. He focuses on touch in much of his art, encouraging people to be playful. His performances have a reputation for being wild and shocking, yet moving.

During the 1970s Frank performed with his cabaret, “The Outrageous Beauty Revue,” at a San Francisco nightclub called the Mabuhay Gardens. Men in wheelchairs singing “Macho Man” with pride and gusto is one example of the types of things they did.

The first story I heard about Frank tells of his entering the stage in his power wheelchair, totally nude. Several women lifted him and laid him on the floor. They poured spaghetti on him and the performance consisted of their eating it off his body.

For Frank to expose his body the way that he does helps many people to feel less self-conscious about their bodies. Body acceptance is a beautiful thing; lack of body acceptance is an ugly thing. Frank shows that the line between “beautiful” and “ugly” has more to do with how one feels than with how one looks. He does this as work/play/art.

After seeing Frank proudly display his unusual body so easily, with no sense of shame, I began to flaunt my atrophied legs almost as much as I exposed my cleavage. I began to feel comfortable in shorts on hot summer days, and to attend gala functions in short skirts and nylons. Frank’s influence enabled me to attend the “Exotic Erotic Ball” in a revealing outfit that led to four compliments on my legs, three sexual propositions, two requests for dates and one proposal of marriage. For several years I have also danced scantily clad in San Francisco’s annual Carnival, resulting one year in a photo of me in “Utne Reader.” Whether on stage, at a costume event, or in the public, my legs don’t have to be hidden. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Frank turned me into an exhibitionist, but his head-stick euphemistically pointed me in that direction.

Frank also taught me to be freer in creating my art, to worry less about who it might offend. He is always pushing boundaries. In 1990, he was one of the handful of NEA funded artists that Senator Jesse Helms demanded be investigated for “obscenity.”

I admire the work that Frank has done regarding free speech and anti-censorship. I heard him on public radio once, at a time when many artists were being censored. Knowing that it is almost impossible to understand what he says, Frank went on the air and said the seven dirty words that are not allowed on radio. It was hysterically funny, one of the cleverest broadcasts I’ve ever heard.

Speaking of censorship, I want to take a side road for just a moment to talk about the current threat to freedom of expression in our country. If society wants to protect itself from “difficult” images, disability is a prime candidate for censorship. Many people are uncomfortable with disability related material, sometimes even finding it disturbing or offensive. People can be afraid of us and they may fear becoming disabled themselves. These fears not only create obstacles to inclusion, but they give an impetus for people to avoid us.

It is important for artists with disabilities to be able to express themselves, even (or especially?) related to sexuality. We’ve been told that we are not sexual beings, but some of us are challenging that through our artistic expressions. It is important that artists with disabilities not be censored. Freedom of expression is our ally.

The trickiness of anti-censorship is that if we want the freedom to say what we think, we need to let others say what they think. I have a right to talk about how I think my body is beautiful; others have a right to call my body deformed. I have a right to say that it is my opinion that many people with disabilities who want to die need better support, not death; others have a right to say that it is their opinion that a severely disabled life is not one worth living.

Unfortunately, under a “freedom of speech” banner, sometimes people deviate from anti-censorship to action or incitement to action. An anti-abortionist group had a web site that listed the names and home addresses of doctors who performed abortions. It encouraged anti-abortionists to cause physical harm to the doctors and their families. Freedom of Speech means that the anti-abortionist group had a right to have a web site stating their opinions about abortion; it does not mean that the group had a right to encourage violence.

Jack Kevorkian has a right to his opinions about assisted suicide, but so do the Not Dead Yet folks. Kevorkian can easily get the press to cover his side, but where is the press when a spokesperson for an opposing organization has an opinion? One form of censorship is failing to tell both sides or suppression of a story.

Censorship/anti-censorship can be a fine line that will likely never be permanently drawn. Frank Moore states on his website:
“…there will always be thought-cops and other forces of repression with their cold mugs of hemlock. We artists who deal in cultural subversion (some call it corruption of morals) should always be prepared to take that bitter drink.”

Frank’s work is considered controversial – pushing boundaries of body acceptance, eroticism, pornography, and sexuality. I don’t always like the messages he conveys, but I respect his work immensely. And, sometimes I have thoroughly enjoyed his work …

… like the time he performed on stage with Nina Hartley, a famous adult movie star. Frank sat in his wheelchair while Nina danced with him, wearing only thong panties. Three nude people moved in circles around them, wrapping them in white toilet paper, tin foil and Saran Wrap. It was beautiful, erotic, playful, and completely wacked. Typical Frank Moore.

Frank is respected as an artist across the country, from Greenwich Village to San Francisco. The last time I saw him perform was at a benefit for Annie Sprinkle, a famous erotic performance artist whose houseboat had burned down. Dressed as Sonny and Cher, Frank and his wife Linda sang, “I’ve Got You, Babe.”

Frank is so far over the edge that most of us cannot even see him. He’s the kind of trailblazer that is a hard act to follow. I interviewed him in his home once for the Barrier Free TV show, but the experience was so surreal that my memory is a dream-like fog. People tend to either love him or hate him. One thing that most will agree on: The man’s got guts!

Frank Moore’s name belongs in art history books, in a chapter on erotic artists. That is saying a lot when you think about the fact that society considers people with disabilities as asexual. My greatest respect for Frank is due to his persistent and primordial twisting of minds around that stereotype.

For information and/or to purchase the book visit http://www.mhortonmedia.com/
Back the Shaman's Cave