Sasha Saben Callaghan
As a disabled artist, my aim is to bring vivid and strange imaginings to life. I blend collage, photomontage and mark making to produce surreal and rebellious images that both amuse and startle.
The pieces I make are a mix of the uncanny and the everyday. Each one is constructed to challenge the viewer’s assumptions. I want to encourage them to think about difference, see beauty beyond the mainstream and question conventional notions of ‘reality’.
My practice is centred on themes around the struggle for social justice, civil rights, and equality, using myths and fairy tales to portray alternative visions/versions of a future Scotland.
Listen to, see and read Sasha Saben Callaghan’s work ‘Fragments’ below
Ten Unlikely Tales of Magic
Alt text – A young girl holding a wand stands in front of a large cabinet decorated with gold butterflies. Behind her is a monkey with golden fur. Pools of coloured light shine against the dark wooden floor.
Snow White and Rose Red
…so, the bear stayed with Snow White and Rose Red all winter long and they grew to love him, and he them…
Alt text – A large bear and two young women, one dark haired and wearing black, one fair and dressed in a red hooded cloak, stand in front of a small house shaped like a pineapple. Behind them is a wintry loch and snow covered mountains.
The Tale of the Hoodie Crow
…anyhow, when their wedding breakfast was done, the hoodie asked his new bride whether she would rather him be a crow at night and a man during the day, or the other way around. She chose crow by day, and at night he was a handsome man with coal-black hair and bright blue eyes…
Alt text – Close up of a hand holding a gold and pearl mirror, the head of a blue eyed crow is reflected in the glass. In the distance is a large house standing on the banks of the Water of Leith and surrounded by autumnal trees.
‘…oh, no,’ said the miller’s daughter, smiling. ‘Not so fast, young man. I haven’t used up all my guesses yet. This story still has a country mile to go before we reach the happy ever afters…’
Alt text – A tall, good looking man dressed in black steps over the threshold of a turreted room. A young woman wearing an embroidered cloak stands by a bale of straw and wooden spinning wheel. Outside a full moon shines through the mist above Edinburgh.
The Light Princess
…and as so often happens, a prince from another country sets out to find a wife. He had not intended to search for the light princess, but when, by the happiest of happy coincidences, he found her swimming in the silver loch at the heart of the woods, he instantly fell head over heels in love…
Alt text – A woman with long Auburn hair emerges from a loch, and a young man stands on a stone by a large building made from glass and concrete in the background. Arthur’s Seat towers above a forest.
‘…my deary one, my darling one,’ whispered the red calf. ‘Rushen Coatie, do what I ask, however strange it may seem, because our very lives depend upon it. First I shall teach you a charm to keep you safe. Now take this pinecone…’
Alt text – A large calf and a young girl with Pictish symbols decorating her face and hair stand close together. Behind them is Duddingston Loch, ringed by bull rushes and overshadowed by the steep slopes of Salisbury Crags.
The Golden Key
…then quick as a flash, Tangle leapt on the back of the of the magic fish. ‘Higher, higher!’ she cried, and they flew over cities and mountains, burns and forests, and all the way across the northern sky. Back to the enchanted land where sweet Mossy was waiting…
Alt text – Horses gallop across the garden of a modern block of flats that is filled with trees and flowers. Leading them is a young woman riding a large flying fish. She’s wearing a red dress and her hair is wild. In the distance is Saint Margaret’s Loch and Arthur’s Seat.
The Seal Bride
…Yes, of course the woman found her sealskin. They always do, whether their true nature is locked tight in an iron bound chest or stowed away in some neglected corner of an attic. Buried six feet under a cairn of stones. Oceans reclaim the selkies every time. Waves have the longest memories…
Alt text – A young woman holding a lovers eye pendant sits by a beach covered in seashells. She wears a blue dress with a pattern of fish and seaweed, and a silver headdress decorated with small fish. Behind her, a seal emerges from a calm sea. In the distance is the Island of Elsa Craig.
The Black Bull of Norroway
…and at long last, the lassie and the bull arrived at a valley of glass. ‘You must wait here for me,’ the bull told her, ‘and whatever you do, don’t move, not even an inch, or I won’t be able to find you…’
Alt text – A young girl with long red hair stands beside an enormous black bull. Both wear ivy garlands around their heads. Behind them, an explosion of gold and blue light illuminates the street in Edinburgh, Old Town.
The Brown Bear of the Green Glen
…well, after three nights, the bear told John to fly with the eagle to Green Island, where he would find wonderful gifts. Sure enough, John returned with a flask of magic water to cure his dying father, along with a bottle of whiskey that never emptied and a loaf of bread and wedge of cheese that never grew smaller, no matter how many slices were cut from them…
Alt text – A young man dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt lies asleep on a sandy beach. Behind him is a huge bear keeping watch. Moonlight shines on the sea and the distant bass rock.
How Iain Dìreach Got the Blue Falcon
‘…a promise is a promise,’ said the giant, ‘and if you bring me the sword of light, well, you shall have the blue falcon with my blessing’. As soon as he heard this Iain and his great pal, Gille Mairtean, the cleverest of all the foxes, set sail for the Island of Dhiurradh…
Alt text – A red headed man in a highland dress holds a decorated sword. A falcon flies close to his scarred face, and a fox lies nearby. Behind them, a contemporary building of glass and steel rises from the mist, its lights blazing.
Brave Ella and the False Knight
‘…haud yer wheesht, chancer!’ said Ella. ‘Ye’ll hiv tae catch me first.’ And with that, she looked the false knight straight in the eye, reached deep into her pocket and threw the smallest grain of wheat onto the frozen ground. Out of the snow sprang a fair quine riding a great, grey horse, sure-footed and swifter than the north wind…
Alt text – A grey horse gallops across a field of snow. All that is visible of the rider is a hand with scarlet fingernails and a silk scalf. In the distance, a young man dressed in white stands behind a stone wall.
The Life Lines commission from Fife Contemporary has been a joy as it has given me the freedom to take this aspect of my work further by creating ten new pieces, the majority of which have been inspired by Scottish folk lore and fairy stories.
After the dark days of the pandemic, and the loss of my good friends, Angela Kennedy and Sean McGovern, to the virus, I hope ‘Fragments’ brings a little light and happiness into the world.
See other projects from Sasha Saben Callaghan
Sol Invictus, 2021
from ‘The Book of Silk and String’. Joint Commission – Attenborough Arts Centre and Disability Arts Online. Visual art and spoken word performance
Alt Text – A young man with a bloodied nose and wearing ear protectors sits by a frozen lake. He has a halo and wings and there is a tattoo of the sun on his bare arm. The winter sun is setting over distant trees.
I was one of five disabled artists commissioned by Disability Arts Online and the Attenborough Arts Centre during Covid. My work ‘The Book of Silk and String’ recorded the course of the pandemic in Scotland from March 2020 to January 2021. Using graffiti I’d seen, overheard conversations, bizarre posts on social media and my own journals, I created a series of six collaged chapbooks about living (and dying) through lockdown. ‘Sol Invictus’ was the entry for December 21st 2020 – the shortest day of a dark year.
On Calton Hill, 2021
As part of ‘Preserving Pasts, Imagining Futures’, online exhibition at National Galleries of Scotland
Alt Text – Two women, one elderly, one young, sit amongst flowers and tall grass on the slope of a steep hill. Both wear garlands of flowers in their silver hair and the younger holds a honeycomb. Behind them, a stone tower stands out against the intensely blue summer sky.
One of things I love to do is imagine what our best lives might look like, so I was thrilled to be included in the ‘Preserving Pasts, Imagining Futures’ project and exhibition curated by the National Galleries of Scotland. As a response to the dystopia all around us, I wanted to create an optimistic and beautiful alternative version for Edinburgh, my home city.
‘Skirting About’ Literary Journal Cover Image
Alt Text – A young woman wearing a pale pink Edwardian style evening dress and pearl choker holds a large picture frame against her body. The image inside the frame is of her stylish embroidered silk underwear.
Skirting About is one of my favourite journals and is a definite must for anyone interested in the social history of fashion. It was a huge boost for me when the editorial team selected my work both as a cover illustration for the ‘Undercover’ edition and as their avatar on social media.
The Doocot, 2022
Commission – MADE in East Lothian, ‘Bored Board’ Public Art Installation
Alt Text – A young woman stands in profile against a backdrop of storm clouds over open countryside. She wears gold and pearl cuff earrings and a cream ruffled blouse. Doves fly around her and in the background is a stone dovecot.
When ‘MADE in East Lothian’ commissioned me to create an installation for the ‘Bored Board’ outside their studios, it was exciting but also a bit daunting as I’d never produced artwork to be displayed outdoors before. However, the whole project turned out to be a joy. Using Haddington’s ‘Ancient Fraternity of Free Gardeners’ as my inspiration, I produced a collaged mural, recreating entries to their flower, fruit and vegetable shows, along with local landmarks.
Joint Commission – DASH and Plus Tate, ‘We Are Invisible. We Are Visible’
Alt Text – Three repeated images, two faded and one clear in clear focus, of a young woman (Hannah Höch) sitting on a high stool with flowers at her feet. She holds a large model of an eye and behind her is a heron. Hanging lamps are suspended above her, and one is designed like an eye.
Cut out text underneath the image says ’Thirty-one D/deaf, disabled or neurodivergent artists converge on thirty galleries across Britain and Northern Ireland, on the 102nd anniversary of the first DADA international exhibition in Berlin.’
‘We Are Invisible. We Are Visible’ was such an amazing event and enormous fun for everyone involved. It was a privilege to be commissioned to create the front cover of the official zine commemorating the celebrations, especially as a lot of my work is influenced by the DADA movement.
Elizabeth Mowbray, 2022
‘LIVES: Re-imagined’ Commission – Sustrans, public art installation
Alt Text – A young woman with white hair and skin and bright blue eyes, stands in front of a stone tower at dusk. She wears a white gauze dress and has a gold halo. Close by her are two greyhound.
Being commissioned by Sustrans to create a public art installation by The Water of Leith was a wonderful experience. With help from The National Archives of Scotland and the British Newspaper Archive, I was able to identify six D/deaf and disabled ‘pauper inmates’ from the North and South Leith Poorhouses and imagine completely different and mythical lives for them. The images, displayed as large banners, were a celebration of people and place as they also included landmarks between The Shore at Leith and Warriston Cemetery, plus the plants and animals living along this stretch of the waterway.
baby, baby, 2023
Sick Artists Club ‘Things I Have Learned The Hard Way’ exhibition
Alt Text – Two gold and amethyst inlaid panels are displayed side by side. In the left panel is an old -fashioned prosthetic arm and hand, made of bakelite and with a leather harness. The hand holds a mirror showing the reflection of a vintage baby doll. The right-hand panel shows a larger version of the doll who wears a knitted woolen bonnet. Beneath the panels are cut out alternatives for the word ‘infantilise’.
This was a response to the death of artist and disabled activist, Lizzy Rose, who died in 2022. The theme ‘Things I Have Learned The Hard Way’ was taken from her retrospective exhibition last year.
John Blundell and Sarah Gormand, 2024
Commission – Disability Arts Online ‘Breath. Blood. Bone.’ Solo Exhibition (2024)
Alt Text – A man and woman stand close to each other by the round tower of a ruined castle. Beside them is a hooded figure, cloaked in black. The woman holds an apple behind her back, hiding it from a nearby roan coloured pony. Beyond them is a mist covered landscape stretching into the far distance and stormy skies.
My latest commission is for a solo show, planned for 2024. ‘Breath. Blood. Bone.’ is a series of 42 collaged portraits and artifacts based on a real-life mystery about a family destroyed by the tuberculosis pandemic of the 1880’s. It’s a story of lost fortunes, piracy, secret marriages and even how to build a family tree from the tiniest of clues…
About Sasha Saben Callaghan
Sasha Saben Callaghan is a visual artist and spoken word performer living in Edinburgh. She was a winner of the
2016 ‘A Public Space’ International Emerging Writer Fellowship, the 2019 national Pen to Paper Awards and the
Stephen Palmer Travel Bursary in 2022. Her illustrations have featured in a wide range of journals, magazines,
exhibitions and installations, including Shape International Open 2020, IAN Australia 2021 and Plus Tate 2022. In
2023, Sasha was Artist in Residence at Forest Arts and The Ripple Community Hub.
Sasha is an Associate Artist and blogger with Disability Arts Online and board member at the Collective Centre for
Contemporary Art. Along with Harry Josie Giles, Sasha was the co-curator of ‘Not Going Back to Normal: A Radical
Manifesto by and for Disabled Artists in Scotland’, published in 2020. Sasha’s lived experience of disability and
impairment is a major influence on her work.
See, hear and read Sasha’s work at ‘Breath. Blood. Bone’ at Disability Arts Online
Read more about the Disabled Artists Manifesto here
See Sasha’s work at ShapeArts.org.uk
See Sasha’s work at OutsideIn.org.uk