The whole point of International Women’s Day is to celebrate women, feminism, Northern lasses and champion women who rock your world. So for this year’s, International Women’s Day, I wanted to profile an artist and creative that I personally have loved from a far since I first became aware of her – her work, passion, innovative and interesting projects and commitment to creativity and equality.
Well hello Lady Kitt…..total megababe. Kitt’s projects, work, events and her exciting ambitions are not only inspirational to the regional, National and Internation sector – but to me, she is someone brave, bold, empowered and doing creative things that are truly exciting and making her mark in a thriving and vibing independent arts and cultural sector. She’s my kinda gal and I’m thrilled she accepted my invitation to be feature in this blog post.
BOOM – Happy International Women’s Day Lady Kitt – reet so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about you and your extremely diverse practice?
Hi, I’m Kitt- I’m a…. “Maker”. I guess that best sums it up. Art, jokes, food, quite a lots of mess, and, with my lovely husband Andy, a couple of super little humans. It’s all making really isn’t it?!
It’s funny – the diverse practice thing, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot recently. I reckon the tools I use are quite diverse- there’s research, paper cutting, mass bubble blowing, fruit carving, performance, lectures, projects, … but really, the core of my work has always pretty much been the same- it’s all about delving into, developing, celebrating the social aspects of creativity.
Everyone has a different journey into the Arts; what was your journey into the arts?
I’m not massively into the idea that people are “born” to certain things; but looking at my early life it’s easy to link it to my practice now. I was brought up in a creative family. I grew up with my wonderful younger brother Louise who was severely disabled and terminally ill. He was an amazing artist and seeing the pleasure and power he experienced through being creative has had a huge influence on how I see art and why I think it’s important. I was taught at home until I was 14 – so had a good amount of time to focus on being creative and lots of time to spend with one of the most important people in my life- my sister, Bridie. Our relationship and creative adventures together are big, big part of almost everything I do.
I’ve always made physical stuff- embroidery, nests, paper cuts- but for a long time I didn’t think I was an artist. I started off wanting to be a dancer. I trained in the Indian dance/drama discipline Bharata Natyam for six years and was taught contemporary dance by the completely awesome Trish Winters. It was through Trish that I started to experience some really playful ways of using and presenting performance. During my art foundation degree, I started making work that combined performance, working with community groups and making stuff all at once. But it wasn’t until I was at university that I really discovered live art and artists with a ‘social practice’ and then I was like- yes- that’s me- I have a gang!
Lady Kitt is an amazing artist name – I love it!
Name wise-when I was coming up to my 21st birthday- my parents were talking about what to give me as a birthday present. I’ve always been a Republican (in the anti-monarchy sense), really disliking the idea of being subjugated, inherited titles and all that gubbins, so they offered to change my first name by Deed Poll to “Lady”, as a daft, subversive, two fingers up the whole system. I loved it – it’s such a cheeky gift- so we did all the paper work and everything- sent it off, but it was rejected – on the grounds that I was trying to “assume a title”- which is sort of pleasingly ironic. I thought “fuck it- I’ll just call myself Lady Kitt and I’ll keep doing it until everyone else does too” and that’s what I’ve done.
You have a very strong visual identity within your work and expression of yourself as an artist – how did you develop this?
It’s really interesting that you say I have a strong visual identity; looking at it objectively I can see what you mean, but that’s definitely not how I experience it myself. For me, I have a strong methodological process, and some very definite ideas about making art in inclusive, ethical ways.
I’ve developed my process by pretty much by throwing myself in at the deep end and seeing what happens. I don’t ever really think “this is too ridiculous” (although it nearly always is). I think “how can I do this so it genuinely, clearly says something I’m interested in” or “how can I get lots of people involved and change something we all want to change” or “how can this be the most fun possible?”.
Like with the first Nasty Women exhibition last year- I just thought “this is really important, I want people in the North East to have an opportunity to be part of this. I want an opportunity to be part of this”. I didn’t think “Bugger we can’t do this- we’ve got no money, no infrastructure, no gallery, no clue”- which was all true! So yup, that’s how I develop the process…
But visually, with the sort of “end product” – I don’t consider myself to have a very coherent style or visual language- I just make the next thing that I feel compelled to make, without ever thinking does it look like something I’ve done before- will it “fit in” with my existing body of work? Maybe it’s because the physical objects I make aren’t really the “end product” to me- to me they are a tool for getting to the goal- which could be raising awareness, building a community, changing a policy, having a good time.
I love your ethos of experimentation, challenging creative roles and processes – where does your creative playfulness come from?
Thank you! I like to see people reacting to things in curious, inquisitive, ways and I like to create situations that let people do that. So some of it comes from that- basically it just makes me happy!
It‘s fun for me to invite people to apply to be my muse (like it’s a formal job), or to encourage people to use my head as an art gallery or to make a performance where the content is authored by viewers sending me text messages telling me what to do. So that’s part of it- And some of it is more philosophical. People are creative- making things in a (generally!) thoughtful way is one of the things that makes us Human.
Often people don’t get (or give themselves) opportunities to enjoy that- I want to create situations that encourage people to make physical stuff, make decisions and think about / celebrate the importance of being creative. I also hate all the hierarchical “hi/ low brow art” crap. I think it’s detrimental to individuals and to society. People thinking that they are not creative or not creative in the “right way” stops them from developing vital skills.
Making stuff gives people agency- it’s a chance to physically encounter change. Making in groups is like apes grooming- it’s social glue. When people start being creative together they almost instantly create a little community that has its own culture and rules- just like that, out of nothing, it’s like magic. Once people do that and know that they can do that then, they often start to explore other wider things that they can create and change. A community full of people who feel empowered in that way can be supportive, kind, resilient. Elitist ideas of what is art and who is an artist just stop all that dead. Sorry, I could go on about this for EVER.
It’s great to be able to showcase you, on International Women’s Day….. what does being a female artist in 2018 mean? What does it mean to you?
Wow- well, I’m extraordinarily lucky. For me being a female artist in 2018 (in the UK), means freedom. I’m free to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it. A few people might think I’m idiotic, a lot of people will question me (and so they should) – but no one can stop me. Being a female artist in other places in 2018 doesn’t mean freedom, it can mean absolutely the opposite. And being a female, or a being queer, or being an activist can still mean torture and death. For me, knowing this and campaigning to change it, is a very important part of being a female artist and of being a Nasty Woman.
How do you plan to mark it this week and #pressforprogress?
Again I’m so lucky. This year I have work in 4 exhibitions all over the UK all opening on Thurs 8th. I’ll be in London performing at the Creative Debuts and Nasty Women “Empowerment” exhibition along with a group of bloody amazing Nasty Women from all over the world.
We are also launching the Nasty Women International Art Prize this week. The aim of the prize is to: Recognise and reward Nastiness in art and activism. Prizes include an Artist residency, money and opportunities to show work in UK, USA & Holland.
Last year hundreds of artists from all over the world gave their time and work to Nasty Women events- the generosity was overwhelming. It’s estimated that the movement has raised half a million dollars for Planned Parenthood and other women’s & LGBTQ+ charities so far. This year Nasty Women organisers wanted to create an opportunity to celebrate those artists and an art prize seemed like a good choice! The judging panel consists of 12 Artists, curators, gallerists & activists from around the world including:
Carolina Wheat & Liz Nielsen from Elijah Wheat Showroom, New York (USA), artist and co-founder of NW Amsterdam Airco Caravan (NL), Curator & NW North East Co-founder Michaela Wetherell and me!, to name just a few. There’s so much to say I don’t really know where to start, but we’d love it if lots of North East based artist entered! Anyone who is interested can check out here.
Do you have a female artist that you’re inspired by?
So many, but not just women, not just artists… all sorts of everyone. Me and my sister just went to see Bryony Kimmings “a pacifist’s guide to the war on cancer”; it was so funny and thoughtful and generous and utterly devastating, but in a really cathartic way.
I’ve just read Scottee’s play “Bravado”- it’s had a big impact on me, I’m making a lot of work about toxic masculinity at the moment and he’s perspective as a “sheep in wolves clothing in the world of men” is very shocking and inspiring.
Betsy Greer- the mother of Craftivism!
Nasty Women North East co-founders Michaela W and Aly Smith.
Venus di Milo- a Newcastle based performer who describes herself as “just a drag queen with no arms”.
Leeanne and Gareth at Thought Foundation in Gateshead– running a stunning, creative business whilst bring up two small children….
The world is full of bloomin’ fantastic, inspiring and very Nasty (in the nicest possible way) people.
Tell me about Nasty Women?
Nasty Women is a global art and activism movement started by New York based artist Roxanne Jackson in Nov 2016 just after the election of Donald Trump. It is pro equality and anti-Trump. There have been Nasty Women events all over the world, raising money for and awareness of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights charities and organisations.
What is a “Nasty Woman”?
The Nasty Women North East’s definition is:
Anyone!!! It is not necessary to identify a women or an artist
- Believing in equality and wanting to protect human rights (in particular women’s rights)
- Believing that art (in the broadest sense of the word- poetry, dance, drag, music, knitting etc) can be used to help increase equality and protect human rights
- Being happy to welcome and support others who also want to do these things…..
If this sounds like you, then as far as we are concerned you are Nasty- Hurrah!!!
Will there be another Nasty Women conference in 2018?
I’m not sure- we won’t be organising one because we’re busy with the art prize and creating a feminist art magazine for children under 10! Also, if there was another I don’t think the same group should organise it -as a big part of the movement is about understand other people’s perspectives and doing things in a way that suits your own setting, so if there is another one I hope it’s somewhere completely different. I hope another group do organise one because I’d LOVE to go to it!
That sounds like a something, the Culture Vulture would be interested in…..how can I, and other potential Nasty Women, get involved?
People can get involved in a huge variety of ways- it’s a totally grass roots, DIY movement, you don’t need permission or any kind of initiation! So you can have an exhibition in your garage and invite your mam and 5 friends and raise money for a local women’s charity.
You can send your art work to one of the many NW shows going on around the world- these are listed in the USA website , you can submit work to the Nasty Women International Art Prize & you can volunteer to help a local Nasty women group
You can also call out inequality and gendered idiocy when you see and experience it, you can tell children you know that they are thoughtful and strong and funny and creative and fierce and fabulous regardless of their gender. You can listen, really listen to the next person who says something sexiest because being Nasty is about being open minded, it’s about understanding perspectives that are not your own and looking for long term solutions.
But ok – we are kindreds…..but let’s get back to you – Lady Kitt; what projects do you have planned?
I’m focussing on my projects “Worth”, “King Kitt” and the “Making Manifesto”.
Throughout 2018, to coincide with the centenary of (some) women’s right to vote in the UK, I am making a series of works called the “worth” portraits- inspired, in part, by Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign to have Jane Austin’s image on the Bank of Engalnd 10 pound note. When that campaign was going on I was horrified by the abuse (including death threats) Criado-Perez received for wanting to celebrate the achievements of women in the same way the achievements of many men have been celebrated for years. The works are portraits of amazing women made by cutting love heart shapes from real £50 notes, each one depicts a woman who I feel needs celebrating. I am always on the lookout for new subjects, so if you know a wonderful women who needs celebrating please get in touch!
I’m also hoping to sleep quite a lot after next week as that’s something that’s been a bit neglected of late….
What does being a feminist/megababe mean to you?
For me being a feminist is not just about women’s rights- it is about equal rights for everyone. The “King Kitt” series of works are about toxic masculinity- which I feel creates a series of circumstances that can make men comically manly, dangerously macho and devastatingly vulnerable. According to the Office for National Statistics- of the 5,965 suicides registered in the UK in 2016, a total of 4,508 were male and 1,457 were female. More equality will, hopefully, create a society where shocking statistics like that can become historical records, not lived realities.
The Making Manifesto is a research project based at Byker Community Centre about the benefits of community making. It involves a lot of the stuff I’ve ranted about earlier- hi art elitism and Making physical things and giving people agency!
Wow – ok so for me as The Culture Vulture- I feel so inspired – this entire interview has given me a kick to be more Nasty, to be more experimental and to seriously consider doing something North East Nasty Women Conference related.
Big love and happy International Women’s Day Culture Vultures.