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Creative Resistance to Welfare State Violence

With Dolly Sen

About the event

Exploring how creativity is key to exposing and resisting the often slow and bureaucratic violence of the welfare state.

Join us for an exploration of the important role creativity plays in resistance: how it can expose the violence of the welfare state; highlight the brutal absurdities of the welfare system; and resource us/each other when conditions are so depleting and austere, allowing us to dream of more life-affirming systems within and beyond the State.

The Deaths by Welfare Project investigates deaths linked to welfare reform and the violence of state austerity. Integral to this work is honouring, uplifting and learning from disabled people’s lived experience and resistance.

Creativity has been key to exposing and resisting the violence of the welfare state – as a political strategy to show the scale of harm, government accountability, and to name and remember those who have died.

This year at the Deaths by Welfare Project we’ve been working with four artists – each responding to the links between welfare state violence and people’s deaths, and the sustained resistance by disabled people and families impacted by deaths.

Join us online as we share the commissioned work for the first time and discuss the long history of disabled people’s creative resistance to welfare state violence.

Dolly Sen will be chairing our discussion, and we’ll be joined by Zita Holbourne, Dawn Toner, nnull, and Vince Laws.

As well as showcasing artistic responses, we hope to discuss the vital role of creativity in evidencing harms, especially where difficulty in showing cause and effect is used as a weapon by the State to deny accountability in people’s deaths.

At this event:

– Some discussion will involve talking about people’s deaths, including suicide.

– We know that talking about deaths related to welfare reform is heart breaking and we recognise that people react differently because of their own experiences with welfare and distress.

– We understand welfare reform deaths and suicides by talking about them in the context of injustice and harm in which they take place.

– We recognise that resistance against welfare reform and campaigning for justice for those who have died takes many different forms, and we honour these differences.

– We would like you to take part in a way that honours how you’re feeling – the session will be recorded so if you need to take time away from the event, or you’d prefer to engage in your own way and time, then please feel free. You know yourself best, so please do what’s right for you at this time.


This event will be held online with closed captions and live BSL interpretation. If there are any access needs you’d like us to consider, please email info@healingjusticeldn.org.

For anyone who can’t make it on the day, we will aim to make a subtitled recording available and will let people know once this is out.


About the Speakers

Dolly Sen’s arts practice crosses writing, performance, film and visual art. Her work is seen as subversive, humorous and radical. Dolly says “I am interested in debate and social experiment around themes of madness, sanity, the other, and acceptable behaviours, from an unusual and unconventional position of power. I am interested in this because I have been labelled mad, although I think my challenging of inequality and vicious systems of the ‘normal’ world makes perfect sense”.


Vince Laws is an artist, poet, performer and campaigner. ‘An artist with something to say and fearless in saying it’ Tate Modern. Vince lives on disability benefit in North Norfolk. He has campaigned for disabled people’s human rights for the last 12 years. He campaigns against the stigma of HIV and mental health problems. His DWP Deaths Make Me Sick protest shrouds (spray paint on recycled bedding) have been seen around the country and some are currently on display at The People’s History Museum, Manchester, until October 2023.

His live happening, A Very Queer Nazi Faust, sold out Norwich Arts Centre to popular and critical acclaim, and featured 13 local participants, some disabled, some queer, but none Nazis. It has now been adapted for 5 disabled actors to tour. Vince has been asked to queer King Lear for next year’s 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s first folio. His lockdown portrait series (oil paint on canvas), Painting Myself Happy, was part of last year’s national Disability History Month launch celebrations, and can be seen online. Vince’s sunflower paintings (oil paint on canvas) are bold and bright and thickly painted, often using paint straight from the tube and a palette knife. Some of his work is for sale through Mana Art Gallery in Aylsham, Norfolk.


Zita Holbourne is a black (dual heritage), disabled woman, a multi-disciplinary artist and a human rights / equality campaigner. She is a visual artist, curator, poet, writer, vocalist and author. Her art practice focuses on campaigning for equality, freedom, justice and human rights and against discrimination and injustice. She organises and participates in community art exhibitions focused on social issues, equality, justice, women, black communities, marginalised communities, disabled people, austerity, migration, displacement and climate change and performs and exhibits internationally.

She is the co-founder and national chair of BARAC UK – Black Activists Rising Against Cuts established 2010, to campaign against the disproportionate impacts of austerity on racialised people and marginalised and working-class communities with an intersectional focus, against racism and injustice and for migrant and refugee rights. BARAC has also worked with DPAC over the years and DPAC co-curated a guerrilla exhibition at Tate Modern which featured her art. She is also a trade unionist – National Vice President of PCS Union and Joint National Chair of Artists’ Union England. She is the curator of the TUC Roots Culture Identity art exhibition now in its tenth year established in memory of Stephen Lawrence to give young black artists a platform. She is a member of UNESCO Coalition of Artists for the General History of Africa. She is a member of Nawi Collective, an all-woman/ femmes/ non-binary singing group singing for freedom and justice.


Dawn Toner is a multi-disciplinary artist, who works with different art forms including Painting, textiles, photography, make-up, costume, comedy and performance. Dawn loves painting, and uses it as a form of therapy, exploring subjects that are sometimes uncomfortable, but help her to process life experiences, such as sexual and emotional abuse, fascism and mental health. Sewing and textiles is another strong passion of Dawn’s, getting a lot of joy from planning and creating costumes for performance artists and clowns from Zoinks! Sideshows, that she works alongside at festivals such as Glastonbury and Boomtown.

Dawn also does signwriting and make-up for these events. particularly enjoy collaborating with performers to help them achieve a look and character that helps them to express themselves and give them confidence. Zoinks! Sideshows continues old traditions of travelling show people, creating sideshow games that are immersive art pieces designed to delight and entertain audiences and have a range of themes and stories, from the purely absurd (POP the CHIKIN!), environmental (The Tuna Canoe) to social/political (Bash the Fash).


Nnull (he/him) is a multidisciplinary artist and researcher based in London, UK. He works across several disciplines, operating across the cultural, research and human rights sectors. His work is first and foremost therapeutic, serving as a space to unpack intergenerational trauma and intersectional struggles that he is currently facing, while attempting to help others out along the way. As a transgender migrant, much of his work is autobiographical, journaling his experiences and the broader politics at play. The aim of his work is to interrogate how inequality is systematically constructed, to affirm the experiences of those who face injustice and to promote a more equitable world by any means possible. He works under a pseudonym to protect his identity as he faces persecution in his country of origin.