Disabled people’s voices at Armley Mills exhibition

Charlotte Cullen, Study for a Shield After Battle (an active process). Photo: Gill Crawshaw

By Gill Crawshaw

An exhibition at Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills brings together disabled people’s voices from the past and present.

Any Work That Wanted Doing features eight new artworks by contemporary disabled artists, living and working in West Yorkshire. They have responded through sculpture, film, soundscapes, textiles and watercolour, to the hidden histories of disabled mill workers, making links across the centuries to disabled people’s lives today.

The exhibition’s title is taken from the testimony of a disabled worker from 1833. This exhibition challenges stereotypes and uncovers the lasting impact disabled people have had on our heritage and culture, with Armley Mills – once the world’s largest woollen mill – providing the perfect backdrop for this legacy.

Becky Moore and Becky Cherriman, My Sisters Hugged Me to Work.

This is an all-too-rare opportunity to experience skilled, meaningful, complex and engaging work by a group of disabled artists. They have embedded their own life experiences as well as research into their artworks to create authentic, multi-layered pieces.

Some examples of the art on show include:

  • Deaf theatre professional Janet Alexander worked with Deaf actor Katie Redstar to make Trouble at Mill, a silent short film based on the life of Sarah Hartley. Sarah was a real Deaf person who worked as a bobbin winder in a mill in south Leeds in the 19th century.
  • Textile artist Becky Moore and poet Becky Cherriman have produced a richly-detailed wall hanging. My Sisters Hugged Me to Work is based on extensive archival research and uses fabrics, ephemera and found words. Embedded in it are the difficulties faced by disabled workers and the dangers of the workplace. 
  • Raising the Nap by Sandy Holden is an outfit similar to that won by 19th century mill workers. Cyanotype printing has left outlines of teasels and other plants on a deep blue background, mill workers’ names hidden in the design.
  • Maryanne Royle’s short film, The Tension That Holds, shows her creating a warped soundscape using cassette tapes and the museum’s spinning mule, that weaves memory, machinery and voices together.

The other artists featuring in the exhibition: Charlotte Cullen, Michelle Duxbury, Ria, Ronin Tynan.

Any Work That Wanted Doing is curated by Gill Crawshaw, working in partnership with Leeds Museums and Galleries. It is part of Leeds 2023 Year of Culture, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund.

For more information about the artworks and the background to the exhibition, see the project’s website.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.