Ausnew Home Care | How Leisa Prowd is putting dwarfism and disability in the spotlight through her art

How Leisa Prowd is putting dwarfism and disability in the spotlight through her art

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When Leisa Prowd was a young girl, she asked her parents how big she would grow.

They said they didn't know.

"Which is the absolute truth," Ms Prowd said.

"It was a slow realisation that this was a thing that I was always going to be."

Ms Prowd lives with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism.

"I feel amazing in my body. This body gets me places," Ms Prowd said.

"It doesn't function like an average-statured person does, but I've worked out how this body works."

A woman with dwarfism looking at herself in a mirror
Leisa Prowd says media about or including people living with dwarfism is often misleading.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Now 55-years old, Ms Prowd is a dancer and theatre performer who explores the uniqueness of her body in relation to other bodies and spaces.

Ms Prowd returned from performing in Germany to be one of the inaugural artists of The Warehouse Residency, a Deaf and disability-led arts project of the City of Melbourne's Arts House in Melbourne.

"Often when we see people of short stature or dwarfism in the media, it's either inspirational, or it can be like a really sad, tragic story, there doesn't seem to be any middle points," she said.

"Being able to use my voice and my body to tell something my way is so important to me."

Leisa in a movement class, sitting upright and touching her toes with her fingers.
Leisa Prowd shares her love of dance with a movement class for disabled and non-disabled participants.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Ms Prowd prefers to use the term dwarfism to describe her disability, as she found when she called herself "short statured" her needs were not met.

"In Australia we call it short stature, however I find personally if I'm then telling someone my access requirements... they just think that I'm short," she said.

"If I say to them that I have a form of dwarfism, immediately they kind of know what that entails, so when I say, 'I need a foot stool', — they know why."

'We've always been part of the arts'

Growing up in regional Victoria as the eldest of seven children, Ms Prowd never had any formal dance training, except for one year of ballet when she was six.

"I performed in Alice in Wonderland and I was the Dormouse and an oyster... I did the only solo," she laughed.

"The memory of that has never left and it really fuelled the hunger, I just loved it so much."

Leisa Prowd smiles faintly as she looks off camera in a nice portrait.
Leisa Prowd was happy to return to her passion of dancing in her forties.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

After school she pursued various jobs and was busy with marriage and children, it wasn't until later in life that she was able to return to her "passion".

In her forties, Ms Prowd joined a movement theatre class for people with and without disabilities.

"I'd never felt younger and I'd never felt more excited, to be able to physically move and discover what this body can do."

Since then, she's been part of a number of inclusive performance ensembles in Australia, with those experiences giving her the "courage" to start an internship with an inclusive theatre company in Germany.

Leisa Prowd lifts one leg in the air during a dance, in front of three mirrors and two mannequins.
Movement and dance is a crucial part of Leisa Prowd's artistic practice.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

For Ms Prowd, these opportunities are a sign that more arts organisations are becoming interested in the unique work of artists with disability.

"We're still trying to get that momentum, but I'm finding now that opportunities are opening up and artists with disabilities are seen as artists," Ms Prowd said.

As part of the Warehouse Residency, each artist receives support for three months to develop their art practice.

Kath Duncan, a member of the Arts House Creative Advisory Group, said the residency was "groundbreaking".

"The whole idea was to create something quite new in Australia," Ms Duncan said.

"We realised there's this huge gap in the market of artists who have all these amazing skills, they're beyond emerging, but they're not yet known."

An older woman with red hair standing in a laneway. She is wearing a grey puffer vest
Kath Duncan says artists with disability have often faced barriers breaking into mainstream art spaces.(ABC News: Patrick Stone)

A disabled artist herself, Ms Duncan said she understood the difficulties artists with disabilities faced breaking into mainstream art spaces, with every opportunity "hard fought for".

"I think disabled and Deaf people have particular reasons for getting voices out there, to expose worlds that haven't always been fun and to highlight the survival for others," Ms Duncan said.

"It just really warms my heart to not just provide opportunities for artists, which is extraordinary, but to open up creative possibilities for audiences as well."

Leisa leans over and looks into a mirror, while being reflected by other mirrors in the space around her.
Leisa Prowd says people with disability have always been part of the arts.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Ms Prowd said the residency was giving artists with disabilities a funded opportunity to get their work out there with the support they needed.

"We've always been part of the arts, always, but it's taken a while for society to sit up and take notice."

'How amazing is that?'

The residency has given Ms Prowd the opportunity to develop ideas she had been thinking about for 10 years.

Through dance, spoken word, film projection and sculptures, she's finding alternative ways to represent difference.

Leisa Prowd sits back in a chair and smiles while an artist applies pink moulding plaster to her face.
Leisa Prowd is collaborating with Pimpisa Tinpalit to create a plaster replica of herself.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

She is collaborating with sculptor Pimpisa Tinpalit, who has taken moulds of Ms Prowd's body to create a plaster replica.

"I'm having casts of my own body made because I've never seen mannequins that looked like me," Ms Prowd said.

"It's exciting that I'm going to get to see my body in 3D for the first time, I've seen myself in photographs and I've seen myself on video, but this will actually be a 3D thing."

Ms Prowd was also able to work with composer and sound designer Dan West who created music to accompany her movements and dance.

Leisa's face and neck is totally covered in pink shiny moulding plaster, as an artist applies more.
Having never seen mannequins that looked like her, Leisa Prowd had casts of her body made.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

"The residency has given me time and space and support to be able to put all these elements together," Ms Prowd said.

Living with dwarfism hadn't always been "sunshine and roses" Ms Prowd said and her art practice doesn't shy away from some of the more confronting aspects.

"Some days it sucks to be three-foot-ten-and-a-half," she said.

"This is a journey towards being in my own skin, being in my own body and how I got there."

Leisa holds a pink mould of her face, in a portrait taken in the studio.
Leisa Prowd has never felt more excited about her artistic practice.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Ms Prowd said ultimately she hoped people would see that she was "really happy" and living with dwarfism had been a "fascinating and really good journey".

"What a life this is, that at this point in my life, at this age, that I am getting to do something that I have always wanted to do," she said.

"How amazing is that?"


Source: ABC

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