NOCTURNES Documentation

NOCTURNES – Joel Simon 

Belfast, November 22, 2023 – The University of Atypical is delighted to announce the unveiling of “NOCTURNES,” an extraordinary exhibition by acclaimed artist Joel Simon. The showcase opens to the public on Friday, December 1st, with a formal exhibition opening as part of the late-night art on Thursday, December 7th, at 6:00 pm. This captivating exhibition is a highlight of the 2023 International Day of Persons with Disabilities program, co-coordinated by the Department for Communities and University of Atypical.

Disabled Artists International Residency Project

New project creates international opportunities for disabled artists

Two leading artists from Northern Ireland and Germany are participating in an exciting new exchange project aimed at creating accessible international opportunities for d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists.

The Disabled Artists International Residency Project, co-ordinated by the Belfast-based University of Atypical, is a response to the feeling of exclusion experienced by d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists when applying for or participating in international residencies.

Northern Ireland artist Husk Bennet will begin a residency at the queer art collective Coven in Berlin, while Flax Arts Studios in Belfast will host the German artist Chris Yohei Tokunaga in February 2024.

The project aims to develop a best practice model for international residencies for d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists, which will go on to be shared with other arts organisations.

Damien Coyle from the disabled-led arts charity University of Atypical said: “This is a unique and important project that explores the barriers that d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists encounter when participating in residences, and the model of best practice will provide arts organisations with an easy-to-use template they can follow to make residencies more accessible.”

This initiative is funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and research and development involved the Belfast and Berlin partners along with the Video Club and Vital Capacities from Brighton.

Patrica Lavery, Head of Community Arts & Education at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said, “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is pleased to support this vital initiative which aims to identify and remove the barriers that exist for d/Deaf, disabled, and Neurodiverse artists when applying for career-enhancing international residencies. Our support for this initiative demonstrates the Arts Council’s continuing commitment to making the arts accessible to all, and we wish both artists taking part in the exchange every success.”

The two artists will exchange cities during February. Chris Yohei Tokunaga is a Berlin based Kyoto born electronic music producer and singer/songwriter. Living with visual hallucinations since the age of 19, music was his constant companion. He considers it important to be open about his own mental health as he hopes to connect with and motivate other people with disabilities.

Husk Bennett is a visual artist from Belfast who studied Fine Art & Art History at Manchester School of Art. Husk has exhibited extensively across the UK and Ireland including ‘The Gallery S1’ with Artichoke Trust, Short Supply’s ‘Queer Contemporaries’ in AIR Gallery, Manchester, ‘URGENCIES (2023)’ in CCA, Derry and Catalyst Arts’ FIX ‘21, Belfast.

Alongside this, he has taken part in The MAC’s Hatch & Scratch scheme from 2021-22, was on the committee for the Flax Arts Project Space and is currently supported by Belfast City Council.

I AM? Exhibition

I Am? – Exhibition

Taking the theme of ‘I Am’ as a starting point or catalyst, the exhibition showcases a range of artworks representing each of the artists’ interpretation of I am, I wonder, I see, I want, I pretend, I cry, I feel, I worry, I say, I try, I hope and I dream using a range of mixed media and materials from drawings to paintings and art works with 3-dimensional elements.

One of the core themes of the exhibition is for the artists to represent themselves and their work in a neutral space rather than being pre-deterrmined or predefined by disability or other preconceptions.

Brain Injury Matters (NI) was established in 2013 as an independent regional third sector organisation supporting, promoting and empowering those individuals and families affected by acquired brain injury.
The Arts
The Arts service provides the opportunity for people to explore their creative potential through participant-led projects in our Studio Space with professional artists.
The projects range from visual arts, photography, film, creative writing, poetry, animation, drama, physical theatre, creative gardening as well as combined media. These are published, exhibited or showcased at exhibitions, events and festivals throughout Northern Ireland and beyond.
This is so that people can develop and utilise their creative and artistic potential for their own benefit, but also for the enrichment of society (UNCRPD, 2006).

Curator – Ciara O’Malley, Creative Arts Manager in the Adult Arts Programme at Brain Injury Matters since November 2019.
Ciara’s role is to give everyone who attends the adult programme the opportunity to explore and develop their potential creatively, as artists, writers, and as performers through the arts and to showcase the work created on the same level and footing as others operating in the public art arena. She organises exhibitions, performances and events in Northern Ireland and beyond utilising local networks and a full range of publicity and media to advertise the events.
She is a practising visual artist creating socially engaged public art works and a member of the Vault Studios, Belfast. She has initiated, facilitated, managed and curated a range of art projects and public exhibitions for many years which she brings to her role as Creative Arts Manager in Brain Injury Matters.
Statement: “The I Am? Exhibition also represents an important stage in the continuing journey of emerging artists in Northern Ireland”.

Curator – Daniela Balmaverde, Italian artist living and working in Belfast.
Daniela graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Turin with a BA (First Class) in Stage Design in 2003. Her love for art has not stopped since.
In the past 20 years, she has been working on various projects of public art, film settings, portraits and sculptures for the public and private sectors.
Curiosity and a constant desire to push the boundaries bring her to experiment and explore materials and subjects. She is constantly attracted to confront the endless challenges that the painting process brings.
Statement: “The curated collection presents a diverse range of artworks that not only captivate the eye but also engage the viewer’s spatial perception. The inclusion of 3D elements introduces a dynamic dimension, allowing the audience to interact with the pieces on a multi-sensorial level.
This exhibition aims to highlight the transformative power of art as a therapeutic outlet, showcasing a diverse array of works that speak to the resilience of the human spirit. Each piece becomes a testament to the artists’ ability to navigate challenges, using their creativity as a means of healing and self-discovery.
This curated collection becomes not only a celebration of artistic talent but also a platform for raising awareness about the profound impact of brain injuries on individuals’ lives and their remarkable journey towards artistic expression.”

Exhibition opening: Thursday 1st February, 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Artists’ speeches will feature British Sign Language interpretation.

The exhibition runs until 15th March 2024.
Gallery opening hours are 11:00 am – 4:00 pm, Tuesday to Friday.

Curator’s and Artists’ Talk: Friday 23rd February 2024, 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm, in partnership with The North Belfast Festival.
Join us then for a tour of the exhibition and an informal discussion about the artworks. This is a great way to start the weekend, and find out more about the artists and Brain Injury Matters.
Light refreshments will be served. Everyone is welcome.

Speeches will feature British and Irish Sign Language interpretation.

For more information please contact
Brain Injury Matters (email: or phone: 02890705125), or
University of Atypical (email: or phone: 028 9023 9450).

Artists’ Bios & Statements

Kathryn Clarke (Belfast) has only recently developed an interest in art and enjoys creating paintings that are bold, bright, expressive and use a range of materials. Kathryn likes to create artworks that explore her identity as a young female.

“Art takes my mind off everything that is going on.”

Stephen Gifford (Lisburn) has created a number of different artworks using drawing, painting, collage and photography inspired by 20th century expressionist painters. He has been exhibited in the Flax Gallery, Newtownabbey, Arts for All, Joob Joobs, 2 Royal Ave, EastSide Arts Festival and Belfast Exposed, Belfast.

“Creating art improves my dexterity, my brain and helps me make sense and communicate my world.”

Leah Batchelor (Belfast) is a degree trained graphic designer who has been running her own business since 2009. Leah always had an interest in and enjoyed art from a young age, creating a range of mixed media and 3-D pieces inspired by Leah’s life and how Leah experiences and sees the world from a different viewpoint. Her work has been exhibited in Flax Gallery, Newtownabbey, Arts for All, Joob Joobs, 2 Royal Ave, EastSide Arts Festival, Belfast Exposed, Belfast.

“It’s a perfect way of expressing myself instead of using words. It is a release, improves my mood and I am not as angry as much.”

Wendy Kelly (Kildare) works very intuitively creating 2-d and 3-d artworks that are woven into the pieces using a wide range of personal and domestic objects which she has collected including, nails, jewellery, plaster and text which she utilises to create artworks that reflect her experiences and express the detail of her ideas. The work has been exhibited in Arts for All, Joob Joobs, 2 Royal Ave and EastSide Arts Festival, Belfast.

“Art helps me understand myself and my brain that I can’t put into words.”

Lisa Forsythe (Larne) explores the themes of her art using story-telling which includes comical, fantasy animals or creatures that represent Lisa’s experience of her world. Lisa has created a range of flick books, 3-D pieces as well as large scale paintings that have been exhibited in Flax Galley, Newtownabbey, Arts for All, Joob Joobs, 2 Royal Ave, EastSide Arts Festival, Belfast Exposed, Belfast.

“Art allows me to be me and to be creative.”

Lesley McClune (Morecambe) primarily enjoys painting that explores her appreciation of colour. Lesley is inspired by the colours seen in the ever changing northern skies, especially as it is characterised in the changing seasons and at different times of the day and in how they represent her thoughts and feelings. Lesley’s painting and other artworks have been exhibited in Joob Joobs, 2 Royal Ave, EastSide Arts Festival, Belfast.

“I express how I feel through colour.”

Rene Boyd (Belfast) works in a sensory way utilising sight, touch and smell which is inspired by the nature she experiences at the places she visits regularly and has a deep connection with, such as Victoria Park, Belfast. Rene likes to re-create how she sees and experiences these places through her sensory drawings, paintings, and mixed media.
Rene has exhibited a range of art works in Flax Gallery, Newtownabbey, Arts for All, Joob Joobs, 2 Royal Ave, EastSide Arts Festival and Belfast Exposed, Belfast.

“ I create artworks that represent the world how I see it.”

James Stewart (Saintfield) is inspired by a range of interests and hobbies ranging through nature, design to football. This is reflected in the varied themes of his drawings and paintings. He is meticulous and takes a great deal of time and attention to detail with each piece. James’ artworks have been exhibited in Arts for All, Joob Joobs, 2 Royal Ave, EastSide Arts Festival and Belfast Exposed, Belfast.

“For me the process of doing a piece is very important. Spending time on each piece and in doing the best I can, I appreciate it when it’s finished.”

New disability arts CEO

New disability arts CEO driven to help others fulfil potential.

The new head of Northern Ireland’s leading disability arts organisation will use her personal experiences to help hundreds of artists fulfil their potential.

Edel Murphy has been appointed CEO of Belfast-based University of Atypical, a disabled-led charity that develops and promotes the work of d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists and enhances access for audiences.

When she was diagnosed as a young child with Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 3, an extremely rare condition affecting around four people in Northern Ireland, doctors told her she would not live beyond the age of 12.

Having had 19 major operations and defied all medical expectations, the 45-year-old County Donegal woman is looking forward to her new role in her dream job.

She said: “Today is a humbling day for me. I first came into the University of Atypical as a visitor, a fan, a friend, a volunteer and then an employee. I came because I felt I belonged. I saw then how clearly this organisation empowered people to do great things and make this city and our region a better place for people like and unlike me to be.”

The University of Atypical, funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, supports and campaigns for disabled artists through a number of programmes. With its own Atypical Gallery and the Ledger Studio for Performing Arts, the organisation also runs the annual Bounce Arts Festival and many other programmes.

While attending Queen’s University, Edel worked at QFT and then began a career as a drama teacher before going on to work for the Arts Council. She then went to UofA as a project co-ordinator and has paid tribute to former CEO’s, Damien Coyle and the late Chris Ledger.

“Over the past thirty years many great activists, artists and creators built this organisation. It is an incredible honour for me to find myself now at the helm. Most recently Chris and Damien have taken it to one of the most admired and inspiring organisations in the region, meeting and stretching expectations of d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent creatives.”

Edel also paid tribute to a woman who changed her life by helping her learn to speak again after one of her many operations.

“After surgery on my neck when I was eight, I found it very hard to speak so that people could hear me. My mum took me to meet a drama teacher in Derry called Eithne McCloskey. I’d just won a bursary of 50 punts for a drama sketch that I’d written at the Feis in Donegal and I used the money for drama lessons. But it was so much more than that. Over the years, Mrs McCloskey taught me how to speak again in public with confidence. She gave me a sense of myself beyond my physicality. She literally gave me my voice back.”

That remarkable experience with her mentor inspired her to work with other creative people with disabilities to fulfil their potential: “I want to help change this part of the world for others who are longing to live their dreams while embracing their atypical identity with excitement. It’s already happening, we are doing it today, and together the Atypical team will do it again and again.”

Next year she will marry her long-term partner Claire and believes it is important to live authentically, embracing diversity and being atypical.
She added: “I’m very proud of who I am and intersectionality is an important part of what we do at University of Atypical.”

Sean Fitzsimons, Chair of University of Atypical, welcomed Edel to her new position on behalf of the board of trustees.

“Edel brings a wealth of knowledge in respect of the Arts, a talented professional who has honed her craft across these islands and beyond. Alongside this Edel brings formidable business acumen and lived experience of disability. We look forward to her contributions to this very special organisation and I know our community and sector colleagues are all looking forward to working alongside her and the team going forward,” he said.

Like her predecessors, Chris and Damien, Edel worked for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which is the University of Atypical’s primary funder, supporting the organisations many programmes and the annual Bounce Festival which has become one of the primary festivals for d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists in Europe.

To find out more about the University of Atypical go to


Notes to eds: For further information please contact Teri Kelly on 07957142915 or Gary Kelly on 07581282723

Northern Ireland Now: Contemporary Collecting

Northern Ireland Now: Contemporary Collecting

A contemporary collecting project in partnership with Northern Ireland Screen which addresses underrepresentation in the Digital Film Archive and champions equality, diversity and inclusion.

Northern Ireland Now: Contemporary Collecting, is an innovative outreach and digitisation project from Northern Ireland Screen and Nerve Centre that will increase representation in the Digital Film Archive — a database that contains hundreds of hours of moving image footage from 1887 to the present day.

The project will give voice to and prioritise material relating to underrepresented communities including ethnic minorities, diversity of religious belief, disabled people, neurodivergent people, LGBTQIA+ individuals and working-class communities (especially young men), to address imbalances in our collections.

With this in mind we thought it would be great to have our D/deaf, Disabled and Neurodiverse community involved – our artists, our audiences, our signers and interpreters, our staff, our friends and in general whoever is interested and in touch with University of Atypical for Arts and Disability.

We’re looking for a group of 10-15 contributors. There will be around 4 workshops to attend from February, of approx. 2-3 hours each, but we’re happy to be flexible and listen to your needs. The workshops for our group will take place in the Ledger Studio, at our premises.

If you’re interested in taking part, please add your details to the form linked below.

Please let us know by Friday 19th January 2024

Use this link to sign up

Introduction to British Sign Language


Introduction to British Sign Language (BSL) Course (6 weeks).

This course is designed for learners who have very limited or no previous knowledge of British Sign Language.

The course aims to enable individuals to understand and use BSL effectively for practical communication with d/Deaf people, and to learn more about Deaf Culture.


Thursdays 6:00pm to 7:00pm

January 18th
January 25th
February 1th
February 8th
February 22th
February 29th


The Ledger Studio
109-113 Royal Avenue

(Note: the session on 18th January will be located in the Board Room on 1st floor of the same building)

Who is this for?

This course is suitable for anyone with an interest in the Deaf Community or British Sign Language.

Who is leading this course?

Paula Clarke is a Deaf artist, performer, tutor and broadcaster.

Paula has worked as a Deaf actor with Amanda Coogan, delivered Deaf information cultural broadcasts through SIGNify Media, provides tutoring in BSL and Deaf Awareness and on top of all that, she works as a BSL broadcaster on the BBC.


This course is generously funded by the Department for Communities- Sign Language Partnership Group

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