What is Visual Vernacular? And what does it have to with Poetry?

Visual vernacular (or VV) is a physical form of performance that draws on sign language, mime, and techniques from the theatre.

It has its roots in Deaf culture and is particularly popular in America, but is growing in popularity in the UK. Deaf artists have used VV in lots of different ways, including storytelling, theatre and poetry.

VV was developed by the America, Bernard Bragg (1928-2018)

A child of deaf parents who were involved in the theatre.  Bernard studied with the mime artist Marcel Marceau in France and was inspired to combine mine and sign language in theatre performances. VV is a sensory spectacle that everyone can enjoy, whether they know sign language or not.

As part of the BSL Cultural Heritage Event, we are joined at Manchester Poetry Library by  VV artist Ishtiaq Hussain.   He uses his entire body, iconic gestures and facial expressions to capture different ideas and themes. You can see his work here, with VV films about ‘Sport’ and the ‘Queen’ created for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, 2022.

Visual Vernacular is different to BSL (British Sign Language) poetry, which has always been an important part of Deaf culture in the UK.   

For a good description of what VV is, why not watch this short video. (with sign language and captions) by Ace Mahbz, actor, performer and writer.

If you want to learn more about the difference between BSL Poetry and Visual Vernacular, come to the event ‘BSL Cultural Heritage’ at Manchester Poetry Library on April 24th as part of Manchester BSL Fest. Book HERE. We are lucky enough to have Kabir Kapoor, the BSL Poet Laureate, performing alongside Ishtiaq Hussain. 

A man leans on a shed looking fed up wearing a flat cap

These workshops are being funded by;

Poetry and Histories of British Sign Language

BSL Heritage: Poetry and Histories of British Sign Language

As part of the Manchester BSL Fest 2024, come and join us to find out more about the poetry and history of BSL at the Manchester Poetry Library. Includes performances by the BSL Poet Laureate. 

Wednesday 24 April 3pm -5pm. Refreshments Available. 

Tickets are free, but places are limited: please register HERE.

Come to find out more about the cultural heritage of BSL or to share your thoughts about a BSL poetry collection at Manchester Poetry Library!  

  • Performance by BSL Poet Laureate Kabir Kapoor
  • Performance by VV artist Ish’s VV World
  • Presentation: ‘1792 and the Boom of Modern BSL’, Peter Brown (City Lit) 
  • Introduction:  Early Histories of Sign Language in the UK, Rosamund Oates (MMU)
  • Discussion:  A future BSL poetry at Manchester Poetry Library? 


The first BSL poet laureate, Kabir Kapoor, will be performing his signed poetry, which can be enjoyed by everyone. 

Ish’s VV World will do a Visual Vernacular performance (find out more about VV here), drawing on a mix of mime, signs and bodily gestures. 


Deaf historian Peter Brown of City Lit in London will present on ‘1792 and the Boom of Modern BSL’. 

Rosamund Oates (Manchester Met University) will share some of her research into deafness before 1760.  https://twitter.com/DrRosamundOates

After the performances, we will discuss the possibility of a BSL collection of poetry at Manchester Met University and Manchester Poetry Library:  we would like your thoughts!

Event open to everyone. This event will be in British Sign Language and English, with interpreters for both. Wheelchair accessible. For other access requirements, please be in touch:  email poetrylibrary@mmu.ac.uk or call 0161 247 6106 and we’ll be happy to support you.


Supported by the British Academy and Race, Genders and Sexualities Research Group, MMU. 

AD: 17th century book with drawings of man making different gestures, described in Latin. 

These workshops are being funded by;

Signs of the Times 21th February

A Hands-On Experience of the Past with Artist Christopher Sacre.

Come and find out about the past, explore the museum, and create your own artwork!

Christopher Sacre of See and Create is a Deaf Artist using BSL and English. 

He uses the visual world to explore heritage and museums and will run creative workshops
during the February half-term at Ordsall Hall and Salford Art Gallery and Museum.


DATE: 21 February: Salford Art Museum & Gallery:  Animals

AM. 10 am:  Workshop for D/deaf, Hard of Hearing and CODA children and families.
Please pre-register HERE. (Best suited to ages 8+) Delivered in English, with BSL support.

PM. 2-4: Drop-in session for all (best suited for ages 5+). Booking is not necessary;
more information HERE.



DATE: 22 February: Ordsall Hall: Patterns and Portraits

AM. 10 am: Workshop for D/deaf, Hard of Hearing and CODA children and families.
Please pre-register HERE (Best suited to ages 8+). Delivered in English, with BSL support. 

PM. 2-4: Drop-in sessions for all (best suited for ages 5+) Booking is not necessary;
more information HERE


These workshops are being funded
by the British Academy.

A Black British Academy Brand Logo

Sound & Heritage 6th Dec


Public Discussion

A public discussion exploring how we can use sound technology to access heritage to celebrate Disability History Month.

Panellists from Disabled People’s Archives, Vocal Eyes, Archives + and the Universities of York and Liverpool.  Performance by leading Drum & Base artist ARTILECT.

DATE: Manchester Poetry Library 3-6 pm Wednesday 6 December.

Tickets are free and open to everyone.

Please register your interest here @ bit.ly/soundheritage.

For more information, contact Mohammed.Khan@mmu.ac.uk

SUZANNE.CLOVES@stu.mmu.ac.uk or r.oates@mmu.ac.uk.

With the support of Past & Present, Leverhulme Trust, Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage.

Disability History Month 4th Dec


Dr Rosamund Oates will be giving an online public lecture to celebrate UK Disability History Month

Members of the Culture of Disability research cluster Rosamund Oates and Nadia Tira will be part of GMCDP and Manchester City Council’s celebration of International Day of Disabled People at Manchester Central Library, 4 December.

DATE: 04 December

Reserve a spot
A portrait image of Rosamund Oats
M logo pink blue and purple