Billboard campaign and installation highlights people “trapped” in long-stay hospitals

Artist Foka Wolf brings awareness to the 2000 people with learning disabilities and/or autism living in specialist hospitals in England.

15 February 2023


From 7-19 March, billboards across inner-city Birmingham will feature Why Are We Stuck in Hospital? posters by Foka Wolf – an artist known for his parody advertisements taking on the cost of energy, police brutality, privatisation and more. The project, which also comprises a gallery installation at Ikon Gallery, will use graphic design to draw attention to an urgent issue in the UK: the number of people with learning disabilities and/or autism that are living in long-stay hospitals, often with no planned leave date.

In 2021, a research project launched into this issue led by the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham and Changing Our Lives. The project states: “Although the UK decided to close asylums for people with learning disabilities from the 1960s onwards, there has been a growth in people admitted to so-called ‘assessment and treatment units’, with allegations that some people stay here for far too long, with little ‘assessment’ or ‘treatment’ that could not be provided elsewhere.”

This poses numerous problems. These expensive services often struggle to help people lead ordinary lives, but they have also seen “a number of abuse scandals – just as was the case with the asylums of the 1960s”, the research project outlines.


Foka Wolf: Why Are We Stuck in Hospital? (Copyright © Foka Wolf, 2023)

Foka launches his exhibition as the research project prepares to publish policy guidelines made in conversation with people with disabilities, their families and front-line staff. To respond to the experiences of the 2000 navigating the hospital system, Foka and collaborator Tat Vision have designed an “impossible maze”, a release states. The installation, which launches 7 March at Ikon Gallery, also includes a display based on the Changing Our Lives publication Hospital to Home: Matthew’s Story, which offers personal accounts by Matthew, who lived in hospital settings for 16 years.

Jayne Leeson MBE, chief executive officer at Changing Our Lives, states: “We are proud to be working with Ikon and Foka Wolf to shine a spotlight on the plight of people with learning disabilities and autistic people who find themselves trapped in hospital. The circumstances of these approximately 2,000 individuals is invisible in mainstream media, with the exception of occasional human rights scandals that lead to little change, so when we had the opportunity to work with a subversive artist and a contemporary gallery, we were very excited. Although this is only a short exhibition, we hope that Foka Wolf’s following will continue to shine a light on this national scandal.”

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Foka Wolf: Why Are We Stuck in Hospital? (Copyright © Foka Wolf, 2023)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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