Vilma Jackson : Meet the Performance Artist Paving The Way for Deaf Creatives
Vilma Jackson : Meet the Performance Artist Paving The Way for Deaf Creatives

Vilma Jackson: Meet the Performance Artist Paving the Way for Deaf Creatives

Multi award-winning Deaf performance artist Vilma Jackson has launched a new chat show featuring an all-star selection of Deaf panellists. The first episode of The Vilma Jackson Show was released on 11 March, and the second will follow soon. Episode 1 showcases the wide array of talent that exists within the Deaf community and the barriers Deaf people face, while the second will address the wider debate around diversity, inclusion, and equality as they apply to the Deaf community.

We caught up with Vilma to chat about her incredible career so far and learn more about the importance of Deaf representation in the performing arts. 

Vilma Jackson was transfixed by TV and film from a young age, and always knew that she wanted to work in the industry someday. Performance artists such as the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin were among her earliest inspirations. 

“Although I admired many artists, I was always aware that there was not one person like me: Black, Deaf, and a woman,” she says. But her parents were supportive, giving her confidence to follow her dreams and never telling her that being Deaf would hold her back. 

“Opportunity and representation have always been lacking in the film industry,” she says. “Whilst I was building a career performing on screen and stage, I have been aware of the lack of opportunity and mainstream attention towards the Deaf community. The dearth of representation of the Black members of the Deaf community also requires acknowledgement, debate, and action.”

She studied Performing Arts at Harrow College and also trained in the Meisner Acting Technique, a system which encourages performers to look to external sources, particularly their fellow performers, for inspiration. This led on to a successful 12 years career including work in film, television drama, music videos, public service broadcasting, and theatre.

Some of Vilma’s acclaimed work includes Dear Hearing World, a short film, based on Raymond Antrobus’ poem, a translation of Her Ghost by Woman’s Hour into British Sign Language, and a leading role in the short film Almost, for which she was awarded Best Performance at Outlantacon. Most recently, she starred in Send Back the Echo, part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine programme. This short film was inspired by Beethoven’s struggles with Deafness, with words taken from the composer’s letters and memoirs. 

Life in Lockdown and Beyond

Like many industries, the performing arts space has been profoundly impacted by COVID-19 over the last year. But Vilma never shies away from a challenge. “I always try to face adversity with positivity,” she says. “The various lockdowns really allowed me to concentrate on my own work, refine my creative process, and provide clarity to my aspirations. I have been a performing artist for a long time and worked on many brilliant projects, but my desire to write, perform, and direct my own work under the umbrella of my own production company has been burning inside me for a long time.” 

She created Vilma Jackson Productions, and the Arts Council commissioned her first project. Triple Oppression is a short story using British Sign Language poetry to convey her struggles, aspirations, and successes growing up as a Black, Deaf woman. Triple Oppression was critically acclaimed and won four awards including a Los Angeles Film Award, a New York Film Award, a FilmCon Award, and a Festigious International Film Festival award.

Vilma says she does not have a specific post-COVID plan. “Life is fluid and so plans should be fluid also,” she says. “Life throws so many obstacles in our way and the pandemic is certainly an obstacle, but opportunity is out there for all of us.” She believes that opportunity isn’t something that falls into our laps. She had to work hard for her success, and cope with the rejections that are a way of life in the creative industries. 

“ Life is never an easy journey, especially in these times,” she adds. “There isn’t a right or wrong way to overcome it, but I learned to be resilient and to pave my way as I go. There is a famous poem by Juan Manuel Serrat that says, Traveller, there is no path. You make the path by walking it.”

Overcoming Barriers

Both Triple Oppression and The Vilma Jackson Show explore the intersection of barriers Vilma has faced as a Black, Deaf woman. 

“If you are Deaf, you face many barriers, and some of those are not because I am Deaf but because society imposes barriers upon me,” she explains. “Being Black and being a Woman also adds to these barriers in an unpleasant way. Unfortunately, discrimination is part of life and everyone has to deal with it one way or another. I am always aware of it in the back of my mind but try to keep a positive attitude and keep moving. Being happy is the best revenge, as they say!” 

She believes it is essential to embrace and celebrate our differences if we are to move towards a more equitable society. “There is a beautiful message which says, God made us different so we could get to know one another better,” she says. “What a boring world it would be if everyone was the same!” 

According to a 2019 report, 94% of British people do not know more than two words in British Sign Language (BSL.) But, Vilma says, “sign language is a rich, very expressive, and beautiful language which combines signs, body language, and facial expression. Hearing people are really missing out by not understanding and appreciating its nuance and complexity.” Regional accents exist within sign language, and each country has its own version that has developed over centuries. Vilma is fluent in BSL and also speaks Portugese, and says that knowing both has helped her understand the differences between Portugese and British culture.

I asked Vilma about her proudest achievement to date. “I was extremely proud to play a part in a fabulous project called Sign Night,” she says. “The fact that this project won the Best International Experimental Short at the Venice Shorts in California brought me great professional pride. But honestly, I cannot choose one highlight of my career,” she concludes. Understandable when she’s created so much incredible art and worked on so many important projects. 

Vilma believes that each project, both the successes and the failures, have led her to where she is today. “To me, they all have a place in my heart.”

Advice and Top Tips

We asked Vilma about the advice she’d give to young people, particularly Deaf young people, looking to get into the creative industries or work for themselves. 

“Work hard, learn from those around you ,and most importantly, be resilient,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you will face rejection, failure, and barriers. Learn to embrace them and use them to fuel your desire.

It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, I guarantee you there is an opportunity to use your skillset. It may not be exactly as you planned and the opportunity may not present itself immediately but with diligence, patience and perseverance you will find it.”

“Success is not money or possessions,” she adds. “It is something that you have to define for yourself, and no one can do it for you. Success could mean a sense of giving back to the world and making a difference. You can inspire children or adults to accomplish their goals regardless of their race, disability, or gender. At the end of the day, success is a feeling. It is the satisfaction of accomplishment that you did a good job, worked with good people, and produced a beautiful work of art.” 

Vilma believes that positive role models are incredibly important and hopes that her story will inspire people.  “I hope people find the fire inside themselves and don’t allow society to stop them achieving,” she says. “I want people to be fierce, in a positive way. I wish to be a role model for future generations so they can believe in themselves.”

Where to Find Vilma and Her Work

You can find Vilma and her work on all the main social media platforms:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vcrj90_productions/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VCRJ90
Twitter: https://twitter.com/VCRJ90

Vilma hopes that her work will find a broad audience. “Obviously, I would like the Deaf community to watch, share and debate the show,” she says of The Vilma Jackson Show. “But I really want my work to cross over to a mainstream audience. Society will only change if everyone is aware of the issues and how they affect real people. By raising awareness, we can create empathy. Only with empathy will we change society for the better.” 

We’ll leave you with this piece of Vilma’s wisdom: “Never give up on your dreams, never let anyone say you can’t.” 

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Vilma Jackson : Meet the Performance Artist Paving The Way for Deaf Creatives
  

Vilma Jackson: Meet the Performance Artist Paving the Way for Deaf Creatives

Multi award-winning Deaf performance artist Vilma Jackson has launched a new chat show featuring an all-star selection of Deaf panellists. The first episode of The Vilma Jackson Show was released on 11 March, and the second will follow soon. Episode 1 showcases the wide array of talent that exists within the Deaf community and the barriers Deaf people face, while the second will address the wider debate around diversity, inclusion, and equality as they apply to the Deaf community.

Jess Amy Dixon is a freelance journalist, writer, editor, and social media manager based in the East Midlands. She helps clients grow their businesses via the written word, whether that’s through marketing copy, blog content, or social media posts. She’s also working on her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, and has won prizes for short fiction.