Nina Thomas: Place Setting

This week, Signature share with readers, more about Nina Thomas, an individual with a passion for film and installation. Nina is profoundly deaf, and this theme is explored throughout her work. Throughout the blog, Nina touches on her recent exhibition ‘Place Setting’, which is currently being exhibited at the arts organisation LUX until 19th May.

Carry on reading to learn more about Nina:

  1. Hi Nina, first, could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your work? Can you expand on the background of Place Settings and tell us a bit more about where this idea sparked from?

I grew up in Staffordshire and when I learnt about the work that the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) was doing there I was really excited. I first had contact with them during lockdown, a time when I couldn’t return to Staffordshire. I started to bring clay into my practice to explore ideas of memory for another project about tinnitus. I applied for a Developing Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England to further explore clay from a deaf perspective, as a bodily language. I was in touch with BCB during this time and so when BCB and Animate then had a call out for Place Setting, I had to apply. My proposal was to explore deaf history and the ceramics industry. I was delighted to be given the commission. Learning about the Mount School, which was once the home of Josiah Spode II, and visiting there was amazing. There is a rich deaf ceramics history in this area that has been really wonderful to explore. There is so much more I would still love to do; I intend to revisit the wonderful Stoke-on-Trent city archives again soon when it reopens.

  1. Which themes did you decide to focus on and why?

I first met Malcolm and Anne- who had worked in the ceramics industry- in June 2022 at Deaflinks. They were in the process of losing their building, which had an amazing history. As your readers will know, this is unfortunately happening up and down the country-deaf clubs have closed, or deaf people have lost their buildings in many towns and cities. Artist Damien Robinson ( has found similar stories in Southend- I encourage people to also check out her work. I was interested in this loss- in face of outward sign of progress within the deaf community. I recently spoke to someone who said that photos from Deaf Clubs in the Midlands had to be rescued from a skip. It is heart breaking, to learn this and to think what might be lost. It is great that we are seeing so much progress in the mainstream media, but I also want us to think about what it means to lose these community buildings and who might be being left behind. Often it is the older generation of deaf people, who have done so much for us, that are being forgotten or overlooked.

  1. How did you approach creating the exhibition and which process did you use to make the exhibition accessible and wholly inclusive?

I can’t claim that this project is fully inclusive- that is always the hope, isn’t it? I believe in embedding access, rather than having it as an add on- but making work accessible is difficult and it’s an on-going learning process, to find creative approaches to embedding access. I wanted to create a film that thought about sound from a deaf perspective, and I approached making it this way. I can’t hear the sound in my film, which might sound strange, but I was interested in this idea. The process of creating was that I imagined sound and described those sound to composer Chu-Li Shewring as sound captions such as (sound of hope emerges) or (beats and tones of the city). I then worked with Care-Fuffle to refine the captions. I am interested in ideas about language and the body and the poetics and the politics of language, particularly as a deaf female artist. How might we question systems and structures through languages and explore silences. I am particularly interested in deaf silence.

  1. The work you create highlights the access issues in relation to arts, why is it so important that you highlight such barriers?

I am profoundly deaf now and a cochlear implant user, but this wasn’t always the case. I was born deaf in my right ear. I was able to access the world the same way many of my hearing peers did for the first 24 years of my life and then, overnight, I became deaf in my left ear. It cut me off from everything. Not just my friends and family but also art, cinema, tv, theatre and so much more. As a visual artist I thought “I will be okay”, but then I found most galleries weren’t accessible, and artists weren’t captioning films- events, screenings, and artists’ talks were all inaccessible to me. I became involved in access projects and joined the Stage text board, and I am a founding member of The Film Bunch. For the past 10 years or so I have been involved in trying to create and embed the change I wanted to see in the world. I found solidarity and support with other Deaf and disabled people. Thankfully, people are starting to listen and think what it means to embed access. I believe it is going to take time to create the change we want to see. Ultimately, it is structural and systemic change that is really needed.

  1. What do you hope to get from the project?

I really hope that people learn about dDeaflinks and the community projects happening with clay in Stoke-on-Trent and nationally. What ways do ceramics and clay communities function that are similar to deaf clubs? What can we learn from both? I want people to think about the connection. Hopefully they will go away and explore these ideas further and begin conversations. I am keen for the BDA ‘BSL in Our Hands’ initiative to get as much attention as possible. I would like to see BSL become more affordable to learn, particularly for deaf people. I have found cost to be the biggest barrier for many deaf people, I feel we should all be able to access our heritage and language. On a personal level, I would like to keep making work and pushing my practice further. I have so much still to learn, and I am so grateful that things are becoming more accessible, so I can continue life as an artist.

  1. As the exhibition has already commenced, can you expand on some of the feedback you have received so far?

People respond to different aspects of the work and relate to it in different ways. It might be that they relate to what language is for them, displacement or questions of community and belonging. I was thinking about ideas of belonging and language, so I am pleased it resonates with others in this way. You never know how your work will be received. I am glad that people are finding different things in the work and sharing their own stories with me.

  1. Finally, do you have any goals or upcoming projects that you would like to share with Signature readers?

I am currently working on a project for the Black Country Museum, that Claudia Davies began on her Curating for Change Fellowship which explores Deaf history within the Black Country. I am focusing particularly on Deaf Clubs and Deaf sport in 1964, a time when Deaf clubs were really flourishing. I also have another creative captioning project that I have been working with at the archive of the Royal Albert Hall. I am hoping to get back in the studio and start making work again soon. I would love to have the opportunity to continue the work started in Place Setting and push my practice further and work collaboratively- I am excited to explore all future opportunities.

Here at Signature, we would like to thank Nina for sharing insights into her exhibition “Place Setting”, which delves into deaf history and the ceramics industry. She emphasises the importance of accessibility in the arts and aims to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the deaf community while promoting dialogue on language, belonging, and heritage.

Credits: Place Setting was commissioned by Animate Projects and British Ceramics Biennial and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

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