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Further Afield Logo featuring a green table microphone outlined in black and black text which reads Further Afield. exploring art and disability in rural spaces.

Interview with Natalie Sharp

Writing by Khairani Barokka

“I started to envision this whole mode of being horizontal, because being horizontal to me felt like I was more in tune with the landscape which is a horizon, and so… I started doing this like, body act of horizontalism.”

About the conversation

In the 6th and final interview of the series, Bella speaks to Natalie Sharp, a disabled artist based in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. They discuss the rural cumbrian coastline as a source of crucial inspiration to Natalie’s current work, finding accessible creative community in the exciting arts scene of Todmorden, and explore how arts organisations can offer meaningful and enjoyable collaboration with rurally based disabled artists.

Accompanying this recording is a beautiful text written in response to the conversation by Khairani Barokka. You can read it below.

Further Afield Logo featuring a green table microphone outlined in black.

Further Afield interview with Natalie Sharp

Listen to the audio version here

“So like, I think being an artist here [in Todmorden] is great because you know, you’re surrounded by lots of other artists… there seems to be like a real sort of intrigue and draw for people”

Accompanying writing by Khairani Barokka

a letter, underwater

dear natalie,

under the sea, timekeeping is a weird weft, an iridescent wave of undulation, suited to octopi of art. you work with tentacles spread in unexpected directions, each current pulling strands of creation that work in their own time. what joy to see the shifting of sands and revealing of thriving biomes that your art practice entails. a reaching out to artistic vision that necessarily involves our spunky seaward clans of other art octopi.

i now imagine us, not only you and i but all disabled artists, as undersea creatures in our own right. the surface may have its dictates, but we understand both its sands-shallows-soil and the sea-depths. mangroves are part of our spheres, both root and fish-haven. rock pools are places we thrive, cool coves, wherever land meets the water.

we both come from islands; you make me want to visit the seychelles, and to learn more of its aquatic realms. my island heritage comes from sumatra and java, and i emigrated from the latter nine years ago. my family remains in jakarta, where they are thankfully happy. visas are such that i must make the pilgrimage to them, more often. island to island, a remembering and affirming of where home is. my mother’s side comes from west sumatra, known as minang or padang people, and my father’s is javanese. the sumatran side comes from a gorgeous village in the highlands, with light-catching fish ponds, and my father’s side is east javanese, coastal but in the shadow of proud mountains. my grandfather on my father’s side moved to east java from banten, also in java, and he was arab bantenese. meaning many years ago, people who could claim me travelled from what was most likely yemen to banten. sea creatures.

[i was raised swaddled in regular prayers and celebrations. religion is always cultural, and in reading the otter AI transcript of your interview, there was a wonderful misreading: ‘Like, I also think that like, Ramadan is a bit of a, well, it’s, it’s definitely a queer utopia but it’s also it feels like a matriarchy here as well.’ it seemed like you were describing my own spiritual practice and community; minang people are the largest matrilineal society in the world, and also predominantly muslim. my community of muslims here in london are people of different genders and sexualities who want to help create queer utopia, as allies and/or queer people.]

the interview bella milroy conducted with you made my rippling surface glimmer in a smile. deepwater thank yous for all you do, and i hope we meet in shoals or sea trenches somewhere, some day. i, too, am a horizontal performer, which is perhaps why we were paired in this project, yet in the hustle and bustle of london i still see such performances—prone—too rarely. your interview made me feel less like an isolated starfish with sand threatening to cover her splay at every moment, and more akin to part of an ecosystem.

similarly to your own journey, it took me years to choose ease over physical pain, to banish shame and to make this decision to be prone when needed, which is often. when i am on a screen performing poetry, i am also in bed with a pillow behind me, a duvet on my legs when warmth is needed, a digital background put up for privacy. though i perform in chairs in person often, with comfort breaks, lying down the entire time is always my fave MO.

once, i travelled to lithuania to do a performance called ‘antivertikalnormatif’, in which i performed a witchy monologue asking everyone present to lie down on the many blankets on the floor, to shed their normative upright ways of ingesting art. at intervals, i would dictate ‘LIE DOWN. LIE DOWN. LIE DOWN.’ to my surprise, what i’d thought would be a slow, gradual trickle of people dropping to the floor happened very quickly. an arts worker came up to me afterwards, thanking me, explaining that they had all come from a day’s work and were exhausted. it reminded me that we are all bent towards tiredness in the grind of things. tiredness as well as denial of tiredness are both the goals of capitalism. disconnection from our bodyminds is the goal, innate contradiction is the goal. i think disability justice really does mean justice for all—we give permission to all kinds of bodyminds to drop themselves to the seabed, let waves wash over them.

it has been fascinating to read about cumbria, a place i’ve never been to yet have been fed, as you aptly put it, a particular wordsworthian image of. your fuller portrayal of the region and its peoples is very much appreciated. i suppose we both understand the difference between how a place is portrayed and how it exists in felt experience, the textures of home, the local weather as undergone by local bodyminds, detached from tourist brochures and white male avatars for land and water.
a thought arises: perhaps because we both are island diaspora and understand displacement, it adds a layer of adaptability to our disabled selves, who are already inherently used to problem-solving, macgyvering our way through life.

perhaps an added way in which we understand the importance of rest, especially: as bodyminds with heritage in populations that have experienced colonialism. we have been framed for hundreds of years as bodies only of value if we exert labour for colonial capitalism. so rest, and being-ness versus doing-ness and capitalist goals, are a form of resistance that, to me, reaches back and connects past, present, future. crip time is, to me, an anticolonial time.

reading your words, an upswell of grief unexpectedly arose in my waterways. my own grief at having gone through so much physical and psychic pain because of the many years I did not have support nor access in any form—inseparable from the healthcare resources siphoned from my home country by europe—and the periodical access fails since. for me, the grieving process must inevitably be conducted best while lying down. my soulbody is one that lives with c-PTSD, and lying down to me is meeting the small child i was and telling her to rest and nap if needed, that the present is not the past, but also that it is natural for a body to still feel in shock, in aftershocks, in waves, the ocean of ableist violence it has been the unwilling recipient of.

shavasana or corpse pose is so related to vitality for me, perhaps ironically considering the name.

i have had to rest lying down on days when i wanted to be working on this written piece. i have felt, unnervingly and annoyingly, guilt and shame at the extensions i required, even though i am so grateful we are both working with partners that understand our needs, that bella is also an underwater adventurer like ourselves. and even though those extensions were due to relapses and clinic and hospital visits and days where my husband is told to take me to A and E by a doctor or nurse, but takes me home to sleep instead. because i hate hospitals, and they would likely make me wait hours, which would worsen my pain, and i might have to go over past trauma despite declining to, which would also worsen my experience. all i’ve ever wanted to do is to write and make things, and although i preach the doctrine of restrestrest and crip time, it upsets me that the self-criticism and guilt and shame are still present, that perhaps they lie dormant, in wait.

it makes me want to go underwater with yourself and your colleagues, and with all the disabled artists i’ve been fortunate enough to find through our special homing mechanisms. underwater, there is not a hint of upright-shame. underwater we can all lie prone.

how i’d love to inhabit your ‘sensory worlding experience’, your various artworks. i am looking forward to this possibility, and to hopefully seeing cumbria to meet yourself and other disabled artists, witnessing your work for myself.

your oceanic artistic impulses reminded me of my own. not only the way poetry—my joyful place, that i try to infuse into everything—has returned and returned to the maritime for me, but that in 2012, during a residency at jatiwangi art factory’s village video festival in west java, i deliberately inhabited the spiritual and the sea. it was improvised. sand was brought into a large warehouse in jatiwangi village, and on it, my co-artist, krisna murti—may he rest in peace—projected a video of waves crashing. he created a physical illusion of the sea on land, and i laid down upon it, sat up upon it, and performed a monologue about god and the collective and the ocean. i don’t remember what i said, but i felt as though perhaps the spirit of an ocean goddess, perhaps nyi roro kidul, or another form of god, came over me. but it was a collective monologue, in which i entered a call-and-response with the audience as i moved on the sand, waves projected on my body. to my exhilaration, the locals responded with gusto and with a connection to the piece that created their own improvised audio responses. i rarely am able to revisit that video, as i might see a young woman who was unmedicated and in extreme pain, and wouldn’t receive help for years to come. but what i want to see was a person choosing to escape her physical pain by communing with the sea and with goddess legends and with the people around her, in a village and amongst artists that offered her friendship, offered a meeting of spirits in unexpected and welcome artistic fluidity.

i feel like i repeat myself so often, exasperate myself, make the same marks on the seafloor with my tentacles. i go over the debris, and how it’s accumulated in the folds of my marine epidermis. how difficult it has been to find a space to just be still. my mind understands this is c-PTSD, yet the waves—as they do feel like waves, exactly like them—of hurting memory, the memory of standing and walking when it deeply pained me, because nobody believed me and wouldn’t for some time, and even if they did, no one was free of colonial ableism enough to give me a wheelchair or pain medications. i am hopeful what hurts will come around in memory less often in future. i must remember that any polluted currents, for the world continues to be full of them, are already visiting me in a place where i am safe and loved, and can create in a way that protects my soulbody. and that there are so many others like myself. like yourself.

writing this has reminded me of the echo in a seashell. we are all creating our own reverberations, and receiving each other’s signals. meeting each other and making, making, making. being with each other across tectonic plates, bathing in the beloved sediment of islands, down in the water.

thank you, natalie.



A headshot of a person. They smile at the camera. They have long brown hair and are wearing a black top.
Natalie Sharp

Natalie Sharp is a disabled artist whose creative journey traverses sound, vision, and costume, weaving together ambitious interactive multimedia performances. Her artistic practice embraces composed sound, electronic music, video, performance, and lighting, all underscored by a profound commitment to body activism. At the heart of her work lies a dedication to accessibility and disability, intertwined with a passion for promoting queer-centred and intersectional approaches to environmentalism.

A headshot of a person. It is a black and white image. The person has short dark hair, They wear a patterned top.
Khairani Barokka

Khairani Barokka is a poet, writer, artist, arts consultant and editor from Jakarta. Okka’s work has been presented widely internationally, and centres disability justice as anticolonial praxis, environmental justice, and access as translation. She regularly teaches, mentors, and consults for arts organisations. Okka has been a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change, a Delfina Foundation Associate Artist, an Artforum Must-See, and Associate Artist at the UK’s National Centre for Writing.

She was the first Poet-in-Residence at Modern Poetry in Translation, and later became the magazine’s first non-British Editor. In 2023, Okka was shortlisted for an Asian Women of Achievement Award. Her latest book is 2024’s amuk (Nine Arches).

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