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Sins Invalid is a disability justice based performance project that incubates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and LGBTQ / gender-variant artists. Led by disabled people of color, Sins Invalid’s performance work explores the themes of sexuality, embodiment and the disabled body. In addition to multidisciplinary performances by people with disabilities, Sins Invalid organizes visual art exhibits, readings, and a bi-monthly educational video series. Sins Invalid collaborates with other movement-building projects and provides disability justice trainings.
Founding and Organizational HistoryEdit
Sins Invalid was founded in 2005 by Patricia Berne and Leroy F. Moore Jr. The organization, which Berne has described as "a hybrid between a community-based organization and a performance," originated in the San Francisco Bay Area and tours nationally. Berne and Moore, who are old friends, have both had disabilities since birth, and they started the project upon realizing the paucity of venues dedicated to celebration of their work and their bodies. Berne serves as Director of the organization, and she has been involved in work surrounding asylum claims, youth incarceration alternatives, the LGBTQIA community, and mental health support for survivors of violence, among other fields. Moore is Sins Invalid's Community Relations Director. His work extends to writing, poetry, lecture series, and hip-hop/music. He has worked, studied, and lectured internationally and is considered a "leading voice" regarding police brutality toward and wrongful incarceration of people with disabilities.
According to a Huffington Post interview conducted by Cory Silverburg with Berne and Moore, Sins Invalid's (pronounced as in "not valid") name came from the idea that a disabled child is a manifestation of "the sins of the father being cast upon the son". As Berne articulates, there is a pervasive societal norm that validates bodies according to beauty, hygienic, health, and other sets of standards. The Sins Invalid framework asserts that humans have a wide variety of embodiments, and all bodies are valid and worthy of celebration. It is also a play on words, since people with disabilities have historically been referred to as "invalids".
Since its creation, Sins Invalid has held annual major theater performances and an artist-in-residence performance, which have all received critical acclaim. In 2012, the project launched a Kickstarter campaign, culminating in the 2013 release of a 32-minute documentary titled Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility, directed by Berne, which details its disability justice efforts and the value of artistic expression. The documentary also elucidates the need for inclusion of sex and sexuality in disability rights discourse.
A review by Terry Rowden states, "Moving decisively beyond any simple ‘shock’ or ‘transgressive’ aesthetic…challenges the politics that systematically disables our ability to recognize beauty." Berne has described the project as, "an erotic event featuring people with disabilities". Sins Invalid harnesses the power of the erotic, using it as a force in politicizing the disabled body. According to Audre Lorde, the erotic is a means to assert power for people who have historically been denied agency. She writes, "The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings." Sins Invalid's invocation of the erotic is a means to empower those who have been denied a space for expression in the public sphere.
Berne writes on the move from individual legal rights toward a collective human rights framework. Berne's writing speaks to both types of change. She uses herself as an example, discussing the fact that her wheelchair does not climb stairs and asking the reader if this is a problem with the wheelchair or a problem with the stairs. She encourages her audience to think critically about our surroundings and the barriers that exist for various members of society due to identity. Berne and Moore both view the oppression of the non-normative body as something to move beyond, toward opportunities for liberation and beauty and a new vision of embodiment.
In the Cory Silverberg interview, Berne said, "I can experience my sexuality as a crip, as someone who fully occupies a non-normative physical space. And part of that movement to fully living in one's own experience is naming and resisting dehumanization." Acknowledging the full history of disability in the United States requires a deconstruction of the dehumanizing practices that have plagued the community. All types of experiences are included in the show, and the denial of sexuality is part of that dehumanization. In the same interview, Moore said, "…we’re sharing these stories in a way that hopefully connects us to our past and also allows us to change our future." The medicalized framing of disability has framed it as a problem to be cured, a pathology that decides, alongside doctors, the future of its host. People with disabilities are often told what their futures will look or feel like, and part of gaining agency involves the decision one makes when deciding one's future for oneself. Sins Invalid aims to reinforce this agency and choice in the futures of people with disabilities, including an audience in order to expand the message and so that people with and without disabilities might internalize it.
Sins Invalid's celebration of the multiplicity and diversity of identities is an iteration of intersectionality in practice. The human body is not permanent and unchanging; rather, it is a non-static being that can change based on nature, the environment, or perception. Since disability does not discriminate, it is useful as a category of analysis in terms of its potential to create, as disability studies scholar Simi Linton puts it, "a prism through which one can gain a broader understanding of society and human experience". Since Sins Invalid includes performers with disabilities who are also people of color, queer, etc., intersectionality is woven into its performances and guiding ideology. In the documentary, Sins Invalid member Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha comments on the freedom that the space provides for various manifestations of difference, such as queerness. She says, "No one has to closet themselves," and this applies to any identity. This ties into Berne's idea of being able to "orient the gaze," or the position the audience occupies as consumers of the performance. Since the project is conscious of so many diverse lenses and does not limit the frame to disability, performers and audience members alike have the opportunity to feel empowered by the acknowledgement of identities.
In order to understand the idea of embodiment, of occupying the body, Berne states, one must have an understanding of the body as situated within a historical, political, cultural, and social context. Feminist disability studies scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson argues that, "integrating disability as a category of analysis and a system of representation deepens, expands, and challenges feminist theory". For Garland-Thomson, the "shared human experience of embodiment" provides a framework in which all individuals should be able to understand the way systems affect or do not affect them based on their bodies.
- "Our Mission | About Us | Sins Invalid". www.sinsinvalid.org. Retrieved 2015-11-10.
- Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility. Dir. Patricia Berne. New Day Films, 2013. DVD.
- "Who We Are | About Us | Sins Invalid". sinsinvalid.org. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
- "When it Comes to Sex, Are Your Sins Invalid?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
- "NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE – THE SINS INVALID FILM | Sins Invalid". sinsinvalid.org. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
- "Audre Lorde on the Erotic". www.english.illinois.edu. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
- Berne, Patricia. "Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility". Cite journal requires
- Clare, Eli (2001-01-01). "Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies: Disability and Queerness". Public Culture. 13 (3): 359–365. ISSN 1527-8018.
- Hall, Kim Q. (2011-01-01). Feminist Disability Studies. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253223407.
- "Embodying Our Humanity: Sins Invalid Promotes Disability Justice through Live Performance Arts". Tikkun Daily Blog. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
- Garland‐Thomson, Rosemarie (2005-01-01). "Feminist Disability Studies". Signs. 30 (2): 1557–1587. doi:10.1086/423352. JSTOR 10.1086/423352.