Crip Ritual

Key Terms: disability arts; ritual, exhibition; curation as method; digital humanities 

Lead: Cassandra Hartblay

Collaborator: Miggy Esteban


About the Project

What is a Crip Ritual?

The word crip is a reclaimed form of the word “cripple” that some disabled people use to describe their own identity or community, often in response to social imperatives be normal, productive, or able-bodied. Rituals are practices that transform and draw together social worlds. #CripRitual thus describes the things that disabled people do to create new possibilities and realities.

Rituals are transformative: they change us and the world around us, whether through incantation or ceremony, private practice or public protest. Academic theories of ritual hold that rituals are embedded in cultural worlds, and that all cultures have rituals of world-building. With the phase “crip ritual,” we put these theories in conversation with disability culture, as understood by disability justice movements and disability studies. This exhibition gathers together artworks that use ritual to foreground understandings of disabled, crip, d/Deaf, Mad, and Sick people’s experiences. #CripRitual highlights strategies for building crip power: the ceremonies, habits, celebrations, design practices, social scripts, and community agreements, grounded in disabled knowledge and experience, that undergird disability culture. 

By invoking the word “ritual,” we are referring to crip cultural traditions that center disability as valuable. Alison Kafer writes, for instance, about the moment of being fitted for a new wheelchair as a rite of passage. She crips a formerly-medicalized event by reframing it as a ritual marking the temporalities of crip life. We can also imagine other crip rituals marking the life cycle: rituals for retiring old prosthetic devices, for receiving new hearing aid molds, for venting frustration when access is denied. #CripRitual thus adds nuance to existing academic theories of ritual. Classically, anthropologists define rituals as prescribed action that bring people together to recognize a change in social status through references to shared cultural symbols and an appeal to a higher power (the higher power in this sociological definition may be spiritual, performative, political, or administrative). Feminist activists use the word “ritual” in a different but related way, to recognize processes that harness intentional transformative potential: ecofeminist writer and activist Starhawk, for example, devises rituals for planting, harvesting, making compost, and caring for community during activist convergences. 

In this exhibition, artworks depict or create rituals that refer to shared experiences of disability culture. In bringing together this exhibition we seek to make apparent the shared cultural meanings circulating in crip communities. The exhibition recognizes crip rituals as processes and events geared toward building power, strategies for surviving ableism that may be secular, spiritual, or in-between.

We imagine five general categories of crip rituals, that we offered to artists when we sent out a call for artwork on this theme:

  • Rituals of managing the normate’s perception of difference
  • Rituals of access
  • Rituals of care / self-care
  • Rituals of activism
  • Rituals of joy and celebration

Examples of crip ritual may critique the imperative to be well and able-bodied, or, revel in the virtuosities that crip bodies hone to make a home in the world. Crip ritual refuses normative hierarchies of authority and expertise in favor of  situated knowledge, of crip expertise. Crip ritual activates collective care networks, mobilizes disability arts aesthetics, and articulates iterative re-imaginings of crip futures. Crip ritual supports bodyminds. Crip ritual puts bodies on the line and enact protest. 

— #CripRitual co-curators Aimi Hamraie, Cassandra Hartblay, and Jarah Moesch

About the #CripRitual Exhibition in Simple English

Disabled, crip, d/Deaf, Mad, and Sick people face a lot of barriers and stigma. One way that we deal with these barriers is through rituals. Rituals can be things that we do to create accessibility, mark important moments, or to be in community with others who have similar experiences. We chose some art to be part of a show called #CripRitual. The art is by disabled artists. The artwork is about rituals, things we do all the time, or with special purpose, to make life more accessible for ourselves and other people we care for.

The show will be at two art galleries in the city of Toronto: Tangled Art + Disability, Toronto & the Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto Scarborough in the winter of 2022, and on this website. We will try to make it as accessible as we can.

About the #CripRitual Exhibition in ASL

The FLOURISH Collective is supported in part by funding from the New Frontiers in Research Fund,
the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the University of Toronto Connaught Fund