Petra Kuppers (she/her) is a disability culture activist, a wheelchair dancer, and a community performance artist. Petra grounds herself in disability culture methods. She uses ecosomatics, performance, and speculative writing to engage audiences toward more socially just and enjoyable futures.
She teaches at the University of Michigan in performance studies and disability culture, in the English and Women's and Gender Studies Departments. She is also an adviser on the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College.
She has been engaged in community dance and disability culture production since the late 80s, and she continues to lead workshops internationally, in these forms as well as in disability-culture adapted social somatics.
When her chronic pain does not allow outer movement, she writes. Her third performance poetry collection, Gut Botany, was named one of the top ten US poetry books of 2020 by the New York Public Library, and it won the 2022 Creative Book Award by the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. Petra also writes speculative fiction (short story collection Ice Bar 2018), and academic books (latest, 2022: Eco Soma: Joy and Pain in Speculative Performance Encounters).
She was a 2021 Dance Research Fellow at the New York Public Library's dance division, and a fellow at the Black Earth Institute from 2018-2022. She is the Artistic Director of The Olimpias, an international disability culture collective, and co-creates Turtle Disco, a somatic writing studio, with her wife, poet and dancer Stephanie Heit, from their home in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Three Fires Confederacy Territory.
In 2022/2023, Petra holds the M. Thelma McAndless Distinguished Professor Chair in the Humanities at Eastern Michigan University.
Olimpias Artist Statement:
The Olimpias is an artists’ collective, founded in 1996 in Wales during work with mental health system survivors, with artistic director Petra Kuppers. Associates come from across the world, with a current US center. We create collaborative, research-focused environments open to people with physical, emotional, sensory and cognitive differences and their co-conspirators. In these environments, we can explore pride and pain, attention and the transformatory power of touch. The Olimpias are disability-led, and non-disabled allies are always welcome. We use presence, slowness, pedestrian movements, a poetics of words and bodies, and the deep affective register of (energetic) touch to share our beauty and our critique. In most Olimpias sharings, we invite audience members to physically (or energetically) engage, shaping participatory performances together.
The Olimpias call for disability culture(s) even while we are aware of the limits of this term, of the disconnects between individual experiences, historical and ongoing oppressions of multiple kinds, and the cultural formations we speak into being.
Performance work, pedagogical labor, activism and critical writing are all part of a continuum. We believe that writing about our art/life practices extends the circle of art’s reach and political vibrancy. Many Olimpias actions result in montaged, multi-voiced essays - part of our audiencing approach (see, for instance, this open-access multi-vocal essay on artful methods, caretaking, and water actions in Canada).
Turtle Disco Mission Statement:
Turtle Disco is a somatic writing studio in our repurposed living room on Three Fires Confederacy territory in the College Heights neighborhood of Ypsilanti, Michigan. We, Petra Kuppers and Stephanie Heit, started Turtle Disco in 2017 as part of our art/life practices, to cultivate disability culture experimentation, creative self-care, communal inquiry, connection, and awareness. We aim to provide a welcoming and supportive environment, grounded in a crip/mad/queer led ethos. Every week, we offer one to three different movement or writing sessions for local folx, as part of a small experiment in art friendship, community building, and ecological sustainability. The space is wheelchair accessible.
Turtle Disco Zoomshell (2020-ongoing) – due to the pandemic, we are experimenting with zoom offerings to continue to connect with our regular turtles and new friends. Turtle Disco Zoomshell offers a medium to reach out to be with each other in the midst of this worldwide pandemic, to create a space for the complex range of feelings and experiences within our predominantly disabled and queer community, and to offer vehicles for creative expression and play.
Weird Factoid: "10 Craziest Professors" honor on Fox News
In 2019, Petra was publicly named as one of the "10 Craziest Professors' by the Young America's Foundation, and the syllabus of her undergraduate Eco/Queer/Feminist Art Practices course (Women and Gender Studies) was read out and commented on (lesbian dance!) on Fox News by conservative media host Tucker Carlson. It feels weird to post the link to a conservative youtube video here, but so many people have taken great pleasure and delight from this weird counter 'honor;' I happily imagine some Fox-viewing young person thinking 'oh wow, maybe university is for me, after all;' and I am glad to be in the company of the professors who are named here with me, so here it is.
Here be Dragons (Petra's poetry/fiction site)
Detroit Performs: a short video about Petra's community dance practice
Goddard College: Petra's Teaching Artist Statement
Black Earth Institute (Emeritus Fellow, 2018-2022)
Older Olimpias Website (static) International Disability Culture Practices: An Archive of 20+ years of community dance and performance
Petra's Academia.edu site: free (with registration) depository of 100+ papers and books chapters, most downloadable as PDFs.