Photo from the series 'Self Portraits', 2023

Ali Newton is an artist who came to our attention via the Covid Café programme–a series of creative, inclusive online sessions for people living with Long Covid, or other long-term health conditions. These creative arts sessions led on to the Shielders' Stage events, which provided an online space for artists who had attended the Covid Café to showcase their work. Ali's work resonated with other attendees and the Spare Tyre team, and we were very pleased to be able to showcase them at the Revue & Rendezvous cabaret recently.

Our General Manager, Rose, caught up with her to discuss her involvement with Spare Tyre, and her work as a disabled artist. 

Rose: Can you tell me about what the Covid Cafe means to you?

Ali: The online space created by the Covid Café recognises that I as a person and an artist can connect meaningfully and be seen. This counteracts barriers that can often exist to meaningful/accessible participation in the creative world.

Rose: What type of barriers have you faced?

Ali: It's more about getting the recognition that an online space is not a lesser alternative, but a valid equal. This is a work in progress for everyone and we're all still learning. Making art accessible e.g sharing work, collaborations, events and exhibitions put online needs a commitment to inclusivity, some trial and error and an openness to sharing what works and what doesn’t. The benefits are great both personally and artistically.

Rose: Where did you draw inspiration for your artwork?

Ali: I’m a self taught, homebased artist living with the long term condition M.E. The photographic images ‘Self Portraits’ are from a project made at my home using a smartphone to record them. They illustrate my life as a person and artist living with M.E. I use props to create the images. An idea can come from an object that inspires me or I start with a theme I wish to convey then locate the prop. I construct the images when my energy and symptoms allow me to do so.  A key reason for the work is to make connections and hopefully the images resonate with others lived experiences, provoke discussion and relate emotionally.

Rose: How did you feel about sharing your images at Covid Cafés and the Shielders' Stage? 

Ali: In terms of connection, the inclusion of creative sharing enables me to benefit  from insights into others lived experience and their artistic practices. A great way to get to know people as well as idea sharing too. It connects me with who I am alongside the challenges of living with an energy limiting disability. What I particularly like about the café is the way it is facilitated with participation by people attending in an inclusive, non judgemental and empowering way. The online meetings recognise the need for joining where you are at and the value of connection.

Our conversation continued into a discussion about inclusive language and the role of reclaiming words, and we'll continue that another time!

As an artist with a disability there can be barriers to gaining feedback, sharing effectively with other artists and I really welcome and appreciate the online space created by the Covid café to enable this to happen.

Ali, artist

An audience in a theatre sit watching as a photo of a woman with a washing basket on her head, 'Self-Portrait', is projected onto a screen on the stage
One of Ali's 'Self Portrait' photos projected onto the stage during Revue & Rendezvous, 2023