Antonia Zenkevitch is a story-weaver, artist, born ranter, and poet with a wealth of past experience in performance, theatre, dance, and creative facilitation. Over the years she has used these skills for entertainment, education, peace, and capacity-building projects in the East Midlands, Middle East, Europe and South Africa. She’s made the changing challenges and limitations of her progressive disabilities and chronic conditions into motivation to find and master new forms and aesthetics. For her, living is curating the process and patterns of life. She passionately believes every person is creative in unique ways and everyone has a right to self-expression.
Organisations she’s worked creatively with have included Creative Partnerships, Compass, Nottingham, Activate UK, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Nickelodeon JR & Purple Monster Theatre, Birmingham. Indigo Brave Theatre Company, Nottingham, North Derbyshire Tertiary College, Nottinghamshire Next Stage and The Renewal Trust, Nottingham, Leicestershire Literature Festival, Leicester, Environmental Arts Theatre Company, Edinburgh, Gowanbank Sustainable Village, West Lothian, Kunst-Perle-Fläming and Ecotopia, Weissenberg and EcoME, Jericho -Almog junction.
Past projects have ranged from helping young consultants, aged 7-13, to co-create multi-arts cultural experience days for an extended school community at Samworth Enterprise Academy, Leicester, to participating in international artists’ symposiums. Once this involved coordinating the closing event of Ecotopia International Festival which included 500 people from 125 countries. She has worked in special needs, in conflict resolution and with interfaith groups, often using and adapting similar inventive tools to aid communication. She has participated in and chaired women’s groups and been involved with politics. More recently she has explored digital art and re-focused on her writing, participating in Poems on Prescription and writing an article on access and inclusion for Left Lion. Writing on several blogs, Nott Normal is her new creative baby.
Story-weaving, writing, performance, and art isn’t what I do; it’s who I am and how I navigate the world. I’ve found much of the art world progressively inaccessible, so I rarely enter it now but still carry it with me. I think many people feel the same for a variety of different reasons. Access isn’t always linked to disability, seen or unseen, but disability is linked to access. As well as the spectacular, I’ve always been interested in accidental art; the changing shape of handwriting; the tales we tell ourselves, alone or with others; the clowning around after my legs do an accidental Elvis impression.
I feel differences of ability and living with barriers to participation is often linked to creative processes. A number of people in Dan and I’s close circle, live or have lived with disabling or limiting conditions. They were or are all proactively artistic in some way and each seems to have experienced a point where either a sense of alienation or decreased physical capacity has meant ever higher barriers to their inclusion.
That is my story too. I was born with disabilities and collected a few more along the way, mostly invisible ones. Despite these, for years I worked and studied in theatre, and did various forms of dance from a young age, including eight years of ballet. Over my life, I have been a creative chameleon. As one creative discipline became less open to me due to challenges of physicality or form, I found others to express myself, explore concepts or narrate and own my life.
I’ve engaged in crafts such as glass-painting, photography, abstract acrylics, and more recently low tech digital and illustrative art using Publisher. My first and most enduring artistic loves were theatre and words. I use words a lot! I’ve collaboratively woven stories and poems and write many alone. I create word art out of ambigrams. I’ve recited prose and verse. I’ve created soundscapes and narrated and compèred small and vast performances. Words are my thing! I lost the ability to speak or write for a while, so when those skills returned like long-absent close friends, I loved them all the more!
I always believed I started with a concept; or a need to explore and communicate a particular experience, idea or thought, and found an aesthetic or form available and appropriate for me to use. I’ve since learned that I respond well to the restrictions and opportunities offered by different artistic forms. If, for example, I choose to write a poem in a certain style, such as zanze, triolet or sonnet, the form I choose helps shape my thinking. Creativity to me is a choice to challenge yourself to see existence with new eyes. It is ever open to different perspectives. I, therefore, believe it is artistically as well as socially essential to try to see things from diverse angles, points of view and sets of abilities. Finding ways to communicate with the languages of our various senses, or to dance when you cannot walk are endeavours that break artistic and personal barriers. Art communicates and if it isn’t communicating we need to try something new.
Much of my professional arts-driven work has revolved around creative facilitation; encouraging others’ to explore and reframe reality through different media, from group sand-drawing or candle-making in peace-building settings, to helping young children explore nature through imaginative play, to challenging bullying and alienation and enriching curriculums using multi-sensory tools. Almost without realising it I stepped over the bridge into realms of human development. I later did an MA in Human Security which encompasses many of these principles. Later still, I became directly involved in politics; another love (and hate) of mine. Now the only politics I do is in some of my writing, and in negotiating three cats and a laptop. The right words can transport me where no feet can go; change or challenge realities or shift accepted norms.
That brings me to an important point about social norms and the narrow parameters of supposed normality. I’ve been called ‘not normal’ and now I embrace the term like a shield and badge of honour. Who is normal? Normal means ordinary, predictable, run-of-the-mill, all things no creative practitioner wants to be. It was thought ‘normal’ for women to not be allowed to work, vote or have their own money. I reject many uses of the term. Many extraordinary people Dan and I know do not conform, or conform only in the ways they choose to or can. People with disabilities, physical or mental health challenges or neurodiversities are often treated as ‘other’. I think, when we look again, we should fit; pieces of a puzzle that create an image of a more spherical world. Flowery phrases aside, I plan to be a small but significant part in a seismic shift in the art world.