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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

Deaf Mosaic at Bloomsbury Festival: Celebrating Remarkable Lives and Empowering Stories

The UK’s 90,000-strong deaf community is an astonishingly diverse mosaic of ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation and different occupations and interests. Opening at Bloomsbury Festival this week, deaf photographer Stephen Iliffe’s photographic portraits range from female vicar to Muslim kickboxer, deaf-blind athlete to fairground traveller, charity leader to fashion model. Each has their own story to share with us. Deaf Mosaic has a vital message to share: with the right support, deaf people can do anything.

We spoke to photographer Stephen Iliffe about the exhibition.

Can you tell us a little bit about your event and what people can expect?

Deaf Mosaic is an outdoor photo exhibition at Brunswick Square Gardens in the heart of Bloomsbury’s historic district. It has 29 large portraits of deaf people from all walks of life - NHS nurse to fairground traveller, Quran translator to women’s rugby player, Ukraine refugee activist to postman. Each portrait comes with a caption story that gives a flavour of what they do and think.

How have you gone about curating and putting together this exhibition?

There are 90,000+ people in the UK deaf community who use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first or preferred language. When I walk into a gathering of deaf people, it can be very multicultural – I have deaf friends of Sri Lankan or Lithuanian heritage, of Ukraine or Mongolia descent. Deaf people are born randomly into all ethnic and social demographics, but our shared sign language brings us together. This is what I want to celebrate.

How do you feel your photographs tell stories?

In a good portrait the story comes from the eye contact the subject makes with the viewer, facial expression, clothes, background, lighting. In the case of Deaf Mosaic, from the captions too. What I’m striving to show is that deaf individuals are emotionally complex human beings just like anyone else. We may feel confident or unsure, happy or sad, assertive or cautious, or all of these things at different times. A good portrait makes this visible.

Deaf Mosaic shares the vital message that with the right support, deaf people can do anything. What is the importance of this message to you and why have you chosen to tell it through photography?

Deaf Mosaic rejects the ‘medical model’ that reduces us to ‘a pair of broken ears’. We’re not broken, we don’t need to be fixed. It affirms the ‘social model’; that it is not deafness that disables people but the barriers in hearing society that can frustrate our dreams. Deafness is a human rights issue. I convey this message through photography because a picture is worth a thousand words. People often pay more heed to a striking photo and a thoughtful caption than they do to a heavyweight manifesto or book.

What do you love about Bloomsbury Festival?

I just love that it is a melting pot, and has something for everyone. For me, London is one of the great multicultural cities of the world, and the Festival is a mash up of its cultures, of traditional and modern artforms. When you think you’ve seen it, something else comes along to surprise you. People often tell me they never see deaf people in exhibitions. Well, thanks to Bloomsbury Festival you have now!

This year’s Bloomsbury Festival opens on Friday 13th October and sees various local venues play host to an exciting programme of theatre and music performances, art and science exhibitions and talks and local walks associated with the theme grow. This annual celebration of the area – now in its eighteenth year - blends the best of contemporary Bloomsbury’s hotbed of creativity with a nod to its pioneering past.


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