The Shadowlight Artists are a group of five artists with learning disabilities based in Oxfordshire, working in a variety of media but with a shared interest in digital forms. Their work is personal, moving, and at times challenging. The group formed in 2009 as a result of Film Oxford’s Flash Frame project. The aim of that project had been to identify individuals with leaning disabilities who showed artistic potential and ambition to take their work to a broader audience. Since then, the group have gone on to produce work that has reached audiences within the UK and beyond, spanning media from painting and sculptural installation to film and theatrical production.
The original Flash Frame project was followed by the Digital Lives project and the current Creative Bridges project, both of which were designed around the group by Film Oxford. Through these projects, the group has grown in confidence both professionally and creatively, and has begun to penetrate the barriers to entry that exist for people with learning disabilities in relation to ‘mainstream’ arts activities. The group themselves all have almost no formal art education, due to the access barriers that exist for people with learning disabilities in relation to art education, and subsequent barriers in terms of accessing audiences.
Film Oxford has worked with the group to tackle some of these barriers. Each of the Shadowlights has been involved in the recruitment and engagement of an established professional artist working in a relevant artform with whom they have collaborated. The group wanted to establish these relationships on the basis of parity in creative terms, with the established professional acting as an enabler rather than a mentor figure. The relationship between the Shadowlights and the established artists is seen as one of collaboration rather than as an instructor-learner relationship, with the goal of helping the group to self- identify as professionals. As a result, the Shadowlights have gained an insight into professional practice that will inform their ongoing artistic careers.
The Shadowlights have also undertaken a large measure of self-determination. They have a formal constitution, and through monthly meetings decide the future direction of the group and define their own goals. The increasing control exercised by the group is inevitably reflected in the ambition of their work.