Unsung Hero: Edward Rushton at DaDaFest 2014

Posted on 16 December 2014 by Liverpool Biennial

As part of DaDaFest 2014, the organisers present a season of events and exhibitions celebrating the life and work of Edward Rushton. We take a look at the ‘unsung hero’ and explore his connection to Liverpool Biennial, DaDaFest and his relevance today.

You may recognise Edward Rushton from the mural by Mick Jones on the ceiling in The Old Blind School – the central venue for Liverpool Biennial 2014. The mural depicts Rushton leading a procession of campaigners across the city and throughout history; Rushton is painted in the centre, heroically carrying with him slaves and people with physical disabilities, and quite importantly bringing them to the forefront of the image.

Edward Rushton was a revolutionary poet, early disability rights campaigner, vocal slavery abolitionist, and founder of the first blind school in the country – right here in Liverpool. Passionate about his cause, he campaigned for a blind school when disabled people were often rejected by the rest of society.

Rushton came from a relatively working class background; at the age of 12 he took work on board a ship – a well-paid job that allowed young men to earn enough to quickly rise through the ranks. The ships upon which he worked carried slaves, but unlike his contemporaries, Rushton saw these people as human beings, and formed friendships with those locked below the deck. In 1774 he caught a disease onboard which made him 90% blind and he could no longer walk unaided or read.

Blindness thrust Rushton into poverty and thwarted his efforts at a political career. Already cast aside by his stance against slavery, Rushton sought out a new aim in life; to create a school for the blind which would improve job prospects for students and give them something to enjoy in life. Eventually King George IV gave 50 guineas and the royal patronage that helped Rushton start the Royal School for the Indigent Blind.

The Old Blind School, 2014 © Shirlaine Forrest, Getty Images

DaDafest 2014: Art of the Lived Experiment at the Bluecoat

This exciting exhibition addresses the idea that both art and life are in a state of continual change and uncertainty. Its starting point is the practice of alchemy, taking its magical, transformative and experimental associations as a template with which to consider practices employed by contemporary artists. Containing 9 new commissions and 28 artists from the UK and abroad, Art of the Lived Experiment also includes artifacts relating to the lives of Isaac Newton, Franz Kafka and Jonnie Ray, responding to themes pertinent to the disability festival and the lives of us all, such as subjectivity, the everyday, transformation and experimentation.

Portrait of Edward Rushton, courtesy of the Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool 

Unsung: Liverpool's Most Radical Son at International Slavery Museum, Museum of Liverpool and Victoria Gallery & Museum

Together, these three displays celebrate the life of Edward Rushton; highlighting his key achievements using writings, pictures and artefacts from his life. Rushton was Liverpool’s most implacable anti-slavery abolitionist, human rights activist and pioneer for disability rights, despite being often overlooked by historians. This programme of exhibitions hopes to continue his legacy of activism throughout the city.

Art of the Lived Experiment continues until 11 January 2015. Unsung: Liverpool's Most Radical Son continues until 10 May 2015. Find out more about the festival at www.dadafest.co.uk

comments powered by Disqus