This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

Rachel Gadsden chronicles her Ethiopian Olympic weekend experience / 17 September 2009

Rachel Gadsden painting titled Stilt Boys

Stilt Boys - mixed media painting by Rachel Gadsden

Zoom in to this image and read text description

We had an amazing trip to visit the visit the Southern Omo Valley indigenous tribal groups, in Ethiopia, over the Olympic Open Weekend 2009. It was a powerful experience to spend time with people who live untouched by the Modern World and who rely on instinct as much as anything else to survive.

My awareness of fragility and survival due to my life long disability reinforces this observation. Disregarding our obvious differences, while I was amongst the tribal people I experienced an incredible sense of unity, highlighting, once more, the awareness of our shared universal human condition.

Whilst there we created a mini London 2012 stadium out of found wood and string and then painted artistic sporting images to wrap around the stadium to convey the spirit of Africa and London 2012. I hasten to add the London 2012 stadium is already somewhat more robust than our maquette. At least with our model we were able to present a visual image of the stadium and the games to the tribal groups we were visiting.

It was fascinating to witness the reaction from the Hammer and Mursi tribes in a remote landscape where modern digital communication has not yet arrived.

It was quite a challenge to explain exactly what the Olympics and Paralympics Games were all about. Reknowned for their fitness and athleticism it didn't take long to convince the tribal people that we are lucky to be hosting the next Games. In the heart of Ethiopia during Open Weekend I was conveying the hopes and ambitions of London 2012.

I managed to do a tiny bit of painting in a tree hut by a 500 year old forest during the first few days. It was amazing and the sketch is included here. I will be using this for larger painting ideas. Here are some photographic images and artwork for you to see that capture this memorable experience. (Gallery to follow)

Keywords: 2012 olympics,visual art,