Interview with queer feminist artist Louise Brown a.k.a. goodstrangevibes; smashing the patriarchy, learning to love your body & running a lush creative business.

I’ve always had a love hate/relationship with my mind, body and soul. I’ve loved being different and seeing the world from my own perspective – but I never really liked myself, not deep down. I grew up during an era of glossy mags that distinctly lacked any diversity, lack of representation in the media, a push towards conforming and the era of the waif (you might argue it’s like that now – but honestly, it was even worse!). I didn’t value myself, I am and always will be my worst critic, I didn’t look after my body….in fact I’ve lived at 10000miles an hour distinctly doing the reverse to self-care. I’ve proudly burnt the candle at both ends, I’ve fought world war three in my head for decades and my mental health rollercoaster is a consistent part of my life.

As a teen, there was no social media – my social sphere was who I engaged with in the immediacy. No online movements, no creative projects focusing on body positivity, mental health issues were not discussed (I didn’t even know what the word anorexia meant – despite having it for years), artists creating social work could not reach me – it was a different landscape to now. My only sense of understanding about mental health and body positivity was through poetry and reading – reading about mental illness, feeling like your body belonged to someone else and wanting the world to stop for a moment and feeling a sense of “gosh – I hear ya!”

In my 30s – I gradually sought out nourishment for my mind, body and soul; I even started to like myself (a bit). I’ve spoken about this before – but a place, I most often seek out content nourishment is via Instagram – a wonderful platform that has democratised (to an extent) art and enabled artists to reach audiences without institutional gatekeepers that often create more barriers than they enable (that’s another conversation entirely!). I spend hours stumbling upon artists and online communities that are creating not just amazing work, running amazing projects, leading positivity movements for thousands or millions of people, people living their purpose, proud of their differences, being the different they want to see in the world and championing diversity.

Body Appreciation

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

It makes me smile. And this is why creatives really matter – all the time – especially NOW. These creatives instigating these online movements are creating meaningful work to enrich lives, empower others, add colour, connect, increase representation, create community, reduce isolation (real and perceived) and to reach out with open arms – to the likes of a teenage me who would have massively benefitted. Social media audiences respond in their millions – with their interest and engagement. This is why these movements have such a great following – they are SO needed and tapping into something; they are also often the first defence during a mental health dip. I know they are with me – Instagram is my quickie version of picking up a self-help book.

So if the movements are needed, the movements are hugely popular due to their positive enabling, the creative visualisations and representations the creatives make are connecting and speaking with people in a way that other things aren’t able to do, then the creatives behind the movements and making the creative visuals must therefore be super important too. You can see where I’m going with this….

I’m spending time on this intro to reiterate how important art can be in relation to well-being and how important artists are in these movements. We are walking blindly into a mental health crisis. We have less mental health resources available than ever before. Our system is not pre-emptively set up. The impact of artists creating an online safe space community, increasing representation, positivity movements and feed into improved well-being is repeatedly understated…… I believe art and artists could play a much bigger role if they were supported and funded appropriately. I believe this is just one of many reasons that we need to reconsider investment in the arts and its wider impact. I’m always blown away with the thought- if THIS is the impact of arts and artists without anywhere near the levels of appropriate funding, imagine if we actually funded and invested into them…..

Giving No Fucks

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

An Instagram account that nourishes me and many others, I discovered a year or so ago was Louise Brown’s @goodstrangevibes – Louise was one of the first local NE accounts that I saw pop up during the beginning of the I Weigh movement. Her work focuses on body positivity, increasing diverse representation and is always a rainbow of colour – she is doing a lot of the above, with authenticity putting her own personal experience at the core; Louise’s account consequently is one that I often revisit on my doom days.

Louise a proud feminist, instrumental (imo) to the local movement claiming back the word “feminist” positively and in her early 20s. She gives me such a bubble of hope in my tummy – if I have folks like Louise coming up behind me pushing forward the next generation of creatives, then it makes me sleep better at night. The world is not shot to shit with wonderful younger folks like Louise in it. And she’s an account that I refer many young people, I work with to look at, especially if they are struggling in some way with themselves.

Louise’s work was censored by Newcastle University Library (not the University as a whole) for depicting naked women/bodies and the fear of it being sexual and offensive. That caught my attention and immediately made me shout BORE OFF when I read it in the Chronicle and how far we still need to go with womxn’s bodies. As Vulture, I proudly got behind the campaign to make the point that a boob or naked body illustration in day light is not a threat to society. (“A boob is not a threat to society” – could be my new 2020 tag line!)

No matter what you ate yesterday, you deserve to eat today

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

She recently attended my recent event (Pre-COVID and the project is unfortunately on hold at the moment) – Newcastle Herstory – Womxn’s Rights as an unfinished fight! Nearly 100 people attended the event to discuss Newcastle feminist histories and womxn’s rights past, present and to plot/reflect on the next chapter. Louise was such a lush addition to the event and I decided there and then, I wanted to interview her so you could find out about her, understand the positive impact her work is having and I’m dead excited to see her creative journey unfold – I’m here for it and along for the ride to support as Vulture.

So here you go – here is Louise Brown.

So hello, for my Culture Vultures – please introduce yourself!

Hello! I’m Lou; a queer feminist artist and final year student at Newcastle uni studying Politics, Psychology and Sociology. I set up and run goodstrangevibes; a small arts business which aims to promote body positivity and mental health awareness through my illustrations.

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Tell me about your journey into the creative industries so far…..how long have you been an artist? When did you start drawing/illustrating/writing?

Hmmm, there’s a big difference from when I started producing art to when I felt entitled to call myself an artist. I think only since introducing goodstrangevibes have I started to say I am an artist, I’m not sure why – thinking back I could have said it earlier… my grandpa wrote this about me when I was just five years old ‘she is the most unusual creature who wants to be ‘Somethink’ rather than ‘Nothink’ but as she keeps disappearing under the table to draw pictures we can’t really say …’. So I guess I’ve always been an arty human but only self-identified as an artist as of the last couple of years.

That’s is the best answer to that question, I’ve ever had…. I used to spend a lot of time under a table as a mini in a creative haze – only I was writing. So tell us about your work– it covers a wider breadth of themes – what inspires it?

I do illustrations of nude humans with the aim of promoting body positivity and mental health awareness. I often use captions and text in my artwork to help convey the messages further. I aim to draw all sorts of bodies so that people can see my work and find an illustration that looks a bit like them in some shape or form.

My experience of low body image led me to create these illustrations. I had been in recovery (from an Eating Disorder) for a while and was being supported by professionals but I still was in the habit of staring at my body in the mirror each night and picking out parts I wanted to change. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to break this habit completely, so instead I decided to draw my reflection in the mirror as a sort of distraction from the negative thoughts as I was now focusing on drawing.

I drew my body every evening during the time I would have spent critiquing it. In appreciating the artwork I produced, I began to see my body as art and worthy of appreciation. From that, I started drawing a diversity of different bodies and posting them on my art Instagram (@goodstrangevibes). I received positive feedback from people who said I helped them feel better about their bodies and this really inspired me to keep creating and posting my work. Goodstrangevibes has really helped with my own mental health and provided me with a lot more self-confidence and happiness.

Other artists have also definitely inspired my practice such as Polly Nor, Alice Skinner, Frances Cannon, Pink_Bits… the list goes on!

Thinking about life

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Well you’ve helped mine too ❤ – not just in appreciating my own body but the diversity of the human body in general. Your drawing style is pretty distinctive,  I can recognise a “Louise Brown” anywhere – how did that develop over time?

I think once I let go and stopped trying to create a ‘good’ proportional drawing, I began to see myself drawing my playful long-limbed flexible humans. I love drawing without the pressure of things being ‘perfect’, very much in the same way I began to embrace my body and stopped striving to affirm society’s conception of a ‘perfect’ body. It’s very freeing to just draw and accept what appears on the page. I very rarely use pencils or rubbers.

I have to ask this question…..how is/has COVID-19 effecting your work, life and practice?

Emotionally it’s been tough, but I am coming to terms with it all as best I can. For one I moved back in with my parents in London and had to leave Newcastle. I am incredibly sad about leaving, but I am very excited to come back up as soon as I can, I feel very at home in Newcastle. At first, I struggled with motivation which has been hard, but I’m taking my time and being kind to myself which definitely helps things!

It’s hard feeling unhelpful sitting at home when so many people are really suffering. I’ve been trying to use my art to hopefully comfort people who are struggling with their mental health and recently contributed to a free downloadable self-care colouring book which will be released soon.

We Will Get Through This Together

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

Ohh keep me in the loop about the colouring book as will be all over that! So you’re a feminist artist; what does being a feminist mean to you in the present day? Why is being a feminist important to you?

Being a feminist to me means believing in gender equality and actively calling out injustices, trying to change the status quo and fight the patriarchy! I feel very strongly about it because of all the inequalities that are still prevalent worldwide that need to be acknowledged, confronted and overthrown.

A feminist concern that I feel equipped to influence the fight against is body image issues. Having experienced an eating disorder when I was younger, I feel strongly about the importance of promoting positive body image in girls and young womxn. Body image is a feminist issue since body image concerns affect womxn disproportionately to men. This is not surprising considering the pervasiveness of the patriarchal idea that womxn should be judged by their bodies, and men by their minds. It angers me so much all the time and energy that is taken from womxn due to the pressures to conform to a single conception of beauty which is unattainable for the majority of womxn to attain anyway! It’s a capitalist patriarchal trap!

Jump

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

You depict REAL bodies in such a positive way – I personally find it, even as a 34yrs old woman, extremely inspiring. What do you want people who view your work who are struggling with their bodies, to take away from it?

Thank you, that’s super lovely to hear! To those struggling with their bodies who view my work, the aim would be to help them spark a shift in their mind, perhaps that it doesn’t have to be that you need to change your body to be worthy or that it is possible to accept how you look and not let that hold you back. Or I’d want them to see a body like theirs being presented in a positive light in my work, and I would hope that could comfort someone going through a tough time with their relationship to their body.

I’m so much happier now I have stopped battling with my relationship with food and I hope people can maybe take hope in the fact that it is possible to rekindle your relationship with yourself. Although I am also very conscious that this is much easier for a naturally slim white woman like myself to do this, as I do not experience fatphobia or other kinds of discrimination from society because of the way I look.

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

You identify as queer – how much does your queer experience influence your work?

I think being queer, and openly so, makes me feel more capable of covering whatever I want in my art – like a sort of byproduct of being open with who I am means I feel more comfortable also then being open with my art. If that makes sense!

I personally don’t think there are enough lesbian icons/visibility in mainstream society – what do you think?

I completely agree with this. I feel I grew up and am still growing up with a lack of representation of LGBTQ+ people in general. There’s still so much I feel like I’m slowly discovering bit by bit. Much of the lesbian visibility in mainstream society seems so fetishised and aimed at a male audience.

Any advice for folks struggling with their identity or sexuality during this period?

I’m not sure I qualify for giving advice, but I guess to be kind to yourself, take your time to listen to what feels right in your head and body. It’s okay if you’re not sure instantly or if you are discovering or coming out later on in your life. I can imagine for folks quarantined with people who are unaccepting of LGBTQ+ it must be really hard. Maybe try to find online LGBTQ+ groups so you can still express your identity somewhere and feel free to directly message me on Instagram if I can offer a listening ear (though I can’t promise I’ll say the right thing, but I’ll listen!).

Surfer Babe Colours

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

How can folks buy or engage with your work?

You can follow my page on Facebook and Instagram @goodstrangevibes where I post my art, or have a cheeky browse at my website www.goodstrangevibes.com where I have an about the artist page, some of my writing, example commissions (email me if you’re interested goodstrangevibes@gmail.com) etc. I also have my online shop on my website which is currently in ‘pre-orders’ as I can’t access a post office – but people can order anything and it will be reserved for them until I can post! I’m planning on releasing vouchers too that can be given as presents to be spent on the online shop or saved until I’m at markets again.

Solidarity

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

What would be success for Louise this year?

Ooh tricky question. It’s very hard to say in this confusing climate what’s going to be possible! I’d like to give my all to goodstrangevibes once my degree is done post June and see what happens. I’m applying for a foundership programme at Newcastle uni next year which would be amazing business-wise as it provides loads of support, but it’s highly competitive, so unlikely. But in general, success would be to get my art in more places and hopefully make viewer’s feel comforted or better about their bodies or minds because of it. I’d like to paint large scale on walls in people’s homes as a new part of commissions I could offer. An exhibition would be super exciting …

In non-business terms, success would be to feel more free, to skinny dip lots, surf, pole dance, do the things that make me happy with people I love. Travelling could bag me some happiness with meeting strangers from around the world and sharing experiences and discovering, but perhaps that will have to wait for a while now!

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goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

I’ve reflected a lot about the question I just asked you – my wants for this year are more personal than professional. I certainly want to travel and adventure. Do you have any projects that you’d like to share and talk about?

I’ve just launched a new project ‘revolutionising sex education’ where I am illustrating people’s sexual experiences and including three words they felt during and three words they felt after in an attempt to portray the diversity of sexual experiences possible and the different emotions that comes with that. How sex can be fun, romantic, boring, scary, exciting, awkward, embarrassing, confusing, upsetting, silly and many many more things!

I want to represent a diversity of sexual experiences, especially LGBTQ+ and others that aren’t explored in mainstream media and sex education at schools. I define ‘sex’ as  e.g. masturbation/foreplay/intercourse – basically anything that one considers part of their sex life. If

anyone is interested in submitting a story entry – email goodstrangevibes@gmail.com or direct message me to show your interest and I will tell you what the next steps are! I’m hoping to display all the illustrations in a book, zine or online resource – I’m not sure exactly what yet. It would be super cool to get a publisher in the future and make it into a proper book!!

I’ve also been investing in environmental business practices and have now launched my upcycled screen printed eco top range on my website if anyone wants to grab one! They are one-off tops that I bought from charity shops in an attempt to combat fast fashion. My designs were screen printed on with the help of Newcastle based Nick Christie at Incubate Printmaking.

Free From Confines

goodstrangevibes – Louise Brown

I want to be involved in all Louise’s projects and ideas, especially the sexual experiences one; society’s view and treatments toward a womxn who enjoys sex needs a lot of work. such an exciting human to watch creatively flourish! Check out Louise’s website and @goodstrangevibes insta for a dose of creative LUSHNESS.

 

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx

Interview with Sunderland artist Kathryn Robertson – making waves, rebels & lock down.

I am so proud at how the artistic and creative community has been coming together and rallying at this unprecedented time of….well it’s nothing short of a Black Mirror episode of crazy that I keep thinking I might pinch myself and wake up from at some point. I am more determined than ever to use my platform and voice to help and support artists – I want to show you the talent that exists in the world, how bright and beautiful creative humans are and the amazing things many artists are doing even when the chips are down….

Kathryn Robertson –  is one of those artists doing lush amazing things. I wanted to interview her long before this COVID-19 thing kicked off – but having a little bit more down time has provided me with the ability to get through my “must interview” wish list and start reaching out to folks. And what a better place to start than Sunderland muralist, illustrator, graphic designer and all round gloriously talented Kathryn! #ganonlass

Kathryn Robertson

Head over to @kr.illustrates on Insta to get a flavour of Kathryn’s work – it’s so lush and if you’re familiar with Sunderland, you’ll see lots of lush sites and re-imaginings of things you might recognise. Kathryn has also collaborated remotely with @martintype (Insta) on a screen print to raise funds for North East food banks during their time of arguably greatest need. Head over to HERE to see it and purchase – it’s Pay What You Decide.

I had the pleasure of recently, remotely catching up with Kathryn and here is our interview…. It’s lush one!

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Kathryn Robertson

Hiyer, so tell my Culture Vultures who you are?

I’m Kathryn Robertson, 25, some kind of artist from Sunderland.

Standard Vulture question – what was your journey into the creative industries?

It was a bit of a winding road, apologies in advance for the long answer. I went from: Apprenticeship in Design & Print when I was 18 then unemployed then worked in bars/cafes then an apprentice chef (for a very short but painful while) then realising I was a bit awful at all of these jobs.

Ben Wall (HI BEN), gave me some work in designing event posters for Independent (Music Venue & Nightclub in Sunderland), I worked behind the bar at the time, but I basically ended up quitting the bar to design the posters and other things instead. I registered as self-employed, went to uni in 2016 to do Graphic Design at 21, carried on with illustration/graphics on the side, did a bit of hustling/selling my own printed products/couple of art fairs here and there.

I structured my final project at Uni around public artwork and illustration, and since then I’ve worked on commissions and public artworks with University of Sunderland, Sunderland Libraries, The Council, Pop Recs, Holmeside Coffee, Vaux and many others! I’ve been lucky to have been supported, and to have worked with some great orgs like Sunderland Culture and The Enterprise Place along the way.

Kathryn Robertson

I love your illustration – when did you fall in love with drawing?

I liked it when I was little because my sister is an artist, and she would give me drawing lessons and take me to The Baltic, and out to see street art when she lived in Manchester. I used to draw/try to emulate things like the typography off food and drink labels quite a lot. I properly fell in love with it when I was around 17, when people started to ask me to draw things for actual purposes, like gig posters, and stuff for fanzines etc.

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Kathryn Robertson

You do SO.MUCH; tell me about your practice?

This is something I’m not very eloquent at. I usually look to others to describe my work back to me (lol). I’d describe my practice as: Graphic Design, illustration, and painted murals, sometimes/mostly heavily influenced by my surroundings in the North East.

How you finding “lock down” as an artist/creative? Any advice to creatives struggling right now working from home?

I’ve never been the *best* at working from home, but it is something I got used to when I was freelancing as a graphic designer, so I’m mentally prepared for it. I’m easing myself into it at the moment and feeling very lucky that I have the option to do so. I’m doing organisational things that I’ve been putting off for ages, stuff like backing up my work up 7 million times, organising folders and filing receipts. I find that “getting dressed” in the morning is a canny good start though.

 

Kathryn Robertson

SAME – terrible working at home; a dynamic learning situation! You’ve got quite a recognisable style in terms of design work – how did that develop?

Thanks! I guess just a lot of practicing makes for the natural development of your own style really. Everyone has a unique style, so the more you work, the more you iron it out and make it your own. We’re all just an accumulation of our other influences as well though, innit.

You were awarded University of Sunderland 2019 Design Student Award, how did that come about? How did it feel to win?

I did a mixture of sort of hands-on things as part of my final Graphic Design Project at University. It included an illustrated surfboard which is on display in The Beam, an entry in Vaux’s beer label design competition, and a mural of Sunderland in The Priestman Building, along with some other things. The award was for Creativity & Individuality – probably just because of the weird mixture of not-very-graphic-designy things I decided to do (lol).

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Kathryn Robertson

Thoroughly deserved! You create fantastic murals – tell me about the mural connected to Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland and the process behind creating it?

Joe from Holmeside got in touch as they wanted something to jazz up the doorway of their take-out shop when it first opened. We struck up a deal of a doorway mural in exchange for me selling my merch in the shop. That was sort of the first ‘mural’ I did really, (other than a terrible one I did in Independent in 2014).

It’s a mash up of Sunderland buildings in HC doorway, and it was kind of made up as I went along, and drawn in paint pens, it was snowing at the time, so I went delirious with the cold. When people ask if the made-up-buildings are certain places I’m like “yep, that’s exactly what it’s meant to be, definitely didn’t make it up”.

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Kathryn Robertson

HAHA! How does it feel having your murals pop-up all over Sunderland bringing it to life? Do you ever lurk and watch folks looking at it to get a sense of what they think?

It’s great 🙂 I like having my work so visible, but I’m very shy, so when I see people looking at stuff it’s nice to just wander past in the knowledge that they don’t know that I made it (if that makes any sense) (creepy). I like hiding (figuratively) behind the artwork I guess, that’s probably why I’m an artist in the first place, to let the drawings do the talking for me. I’m bad at talking.

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Kathryn Robertson

I’m QUEEN lurker/introvert/socially awkward and shy – I hear you! As a social media professional I LOVE your personality on Insta and that you’ve got the breadth of your practice (including yourself!) on there; loved the @teatowelontour Insta channel – how did it feel finding out about that? (Reminds me of the Innocent smoothie stapler going across the world!)

Yeah it’s great to see Helen (@lifeouels) travel with the Sunderland Tea Towel, just a really canny idea to take a bit of home with her around the world, love seeing the updates 🙂

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Kathryn Robertson

In addition to tea towels – you sell some of your work and your available for commissions (loved the design for Lamp Light Festival graphics!) – where can people buy stuff from you and get in touch?

Thanks!! My online shop is partially down for the time-being while I figure the whole ‘freelancing whilst social distancing’ thing out, but I’ve got something out now with another artist pal (Andy Martin) at the moment, a print – you can get it HERE.  Other than that it’s: @kr.illustrates (insta), @krillustrates (FB) and krillustrates@gmail.com for work enquires!

I feel like you’re really making waves and your mark on the Sunderland creative scene – what do you think of the creative scene in Sunderland? Any Sunderland peer creatives you admire that I should check out?

I love the creative scene in Sunderland. Here are some names/instagrams of Visual artist pals based in Sunderland (I think) : @heatherchambersart, @chris_cummings_art, @saragibbesonillustration, @mar9ntype, @mariegardinerphoto, @sue.loughlin, @maverickartjo, @cwnutsandseeds, @charliepasquali , @faostyles.

There’s so many more but my brain is not working. Need coffee.

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Kathryn Robertson

Speaking of making waves….tell me about the “City by the Sea” exhibition and your piece in it?

There was an open call for artists based in Sunderland to design a surfboard to part of this exhibition in The Beam (that building on the Vaux site). I proposed a very Sunderland themed design of past and present buildings. I was picked as one of the artists to be commissioned.

They delivered this 6ft surfboard to me and I drew on it in paint pens, they lacquered it, and now it’s upstairs in The Beam, alongside some other local artists versions, and they got some schools to do a few as well. Canny!

Can you tell me about Rebel Women Sunderland – what the project is and how you got involved?

Laura Brewis (Sunderland Culture) is the mastermind behind The Rebel Women of Sunderland project, and I believe it was inspired by a book called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, as well as her daughter. It’s a project to shine a light on notable women from Sunderland, and to tell their stories in an engaging way. We created illustrations and stories for each of the selected women. I was commissioned to do the illustrating, alongside writer Jessica Andrews who wrote their wonderful stories.

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Kathryn Robertson

How were the notable women selected?

Sunderland Culture put a post out for people to nominate women or give suggestions of notable women, or women that have shone in their field, or gone somewhat unsung, I believe they got a huge list of suggestions, and had to condense it down (which will have been very difficult!)

Why are projects like Rebel Women important in 2020?

It’s important to tell the stories of all of these women, and I think it’s particularly nice to be able to show and tell them in this way, there’s been a lot of RW themed events where people can get involved, the exhibition has been around a couple of different venues in the city – and I’m sure the stories will have inspired some young people to think “I can be that too”. As Laura quoted at one of the past Rebel Women events, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”!

I love that – Brewis is such a lush human! And rebel lass in her own right! Tell me about the new recent additions to Rebel Women Sunderland for this year’s International Women Day?

The newest editions are Nadine Shah, Florence Collard + The Shipyard Girls, Ellen Bell, and Aly Dixon.

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Kathryn Robertson

What’s next for Rebel Women Sunderland as a project? Where can we see the pieces in the future?

It will expand in the future hopefully, there’s still plenty of lasses to feature! Laura wants to make a book, which I’m so down for. I’m not sure where the pieces/stories will be available to see next, maybe we should make it into some kind of virtual exhibition though (!!?)

I am so here for that – so tell me about a few illustrators or muralists you admire and suggest I check out?

Sheffield-based artist Jo Peel @jo_peel (obsessed with her), James Gulliver Hancock, @gemmacorrell @vicleelondon @mul_draws, @pandafunkteam, @sophie_roach, @mr_aryz @ashwillerton

What’s next for you? What projects do you have in the pipeline?

As with everyone, I’m a little uncertain for the next however many months, as public work is off, art fairs either postponed or cancelled, but I’m hoping to have plenty of new illustrations by the end of this, and if I’m dreaming about the future, then I’d love to have my first exhibition of my own work somewhere one day – if it was something people wanted to see.

I’d love to carry on with public artworks too. Also I have this (maybe slightly ambitious) dream of doing a stop-motion animated mural, inspired greatly by Jo Peel, check this out HERE

Love what you do and thanks for the great questions!

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Kathryn Robertson

That love is right back at you and I am so excited for what you do next! You are a glorious human!  Check Kathryn’s work out…

That’s all for now Culture Vultures! I’ve got a great list of blog posts coming!

An interview with artist Slutmouth – an Instagram discovery with meaning, heart and soul.

Instagram Is a great place to discover new artists and it’s one of my first places to start when looking for new creative lushness. It’s given a place for creatives – their feed is their digital gallery and portfolio to the world, alongside an insight to themselves and their practice. I think Instagram increases democracy in artistic opportunities and audiences – there is more potential for folks to see their work, enjoy it in their own time and there doesn’t seem to be the same barriers for folks as there is in an art gallery.

I spend HOURS on Instagram looking at artists and creatives’ feeds on social – an introvert haven. Discovering new artists on Insta is almost as much of an addiction as my diet coke habit. Bettie/Slut mouth (love.that.name) is an Instagram super star creative, I’ve followed for some time – not only love their work, but also their ethos, integrity, passion for being real and bold in their work and they are one of my favourite (probably arguably my favourite – but I struggle with making final choices about favourites so ….) feminist and gender equality promoting artists. Their work crosses different mediums and like me – it’s kind of hard to describe what they do!

I’ve had Bettie on my list for a Culture Vulture blog for over a year – so I’m buzzed it’s actually happening and I got to interview this brilliant creative human. We need more Betties in the world. Part of my Culture Vulture adventure so far – it’s taught me as much about what and who I want to be personally, as it has professionally. Artists like Bettie create art that means something, says something to world and is an extension of who they are in a meaningful unapologetic way. Artists like Bettie, remind me, to be bold, be honest and to use my platform (and privilege) to say something to the world. Over to you Bettie….

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Hiyer, who are you?

I’m Bettie aka Slutmouth a surface designer and proud cat mom based in the North East more specifically, Hartlepool.

Tell me about your journey into the creative sector?

I was always very creative as a child, my mum nurtured this being a community artist herself. At age 14, I started to attend the National Saturday Art Club at which, was then, CCAD at Green Lane. We had the opportunity to exhibit our work in the Somerset House four times which is extremely cool at that age!

Whilst attending the Saturday club, I had the chance to use specialist art facilities which inspired me study Design crafts at the college and pursue a career in the Arts. During my time at the college, I really developed my love for freehand embroidery and created a bizarre and whimsical installation piece created as a homage to George Méliès and the Smashing Pumpkins.

The following year I started the Textile and Surface design course at the Northern School of Art where I really dived into Screen printing in the first year. It was in second year when watching John Waters ‘Pink Flamingos’ and The Cockettes documentary that I really began to home in on the ‘Slutmouth’ aesthetic and vibe. For the project of ‘Off Beat’ I was hugely inspired by Leigh Bowery and the Club Kids of New York and I feel that’s where I really started to explore my own identity, and what it meant to me within my work. This is when the penny really dropped and I felt I had a solid direction.

How would you describe your arts’ practice?

I would describe it as an extremely personal process with it originally being me exploring my identity, the taboos and negativity I was holding against my body and sexuality and breaking through those barriers by using my art to do so. I’ve always been a very colourful person even when in my emo phase and so this reflects within the colour palettes of my work. It is amalgamated stylised chaos, thought process.

Taking influence from music, art, fashion, film and feeling. I feel that I use my work as my platform to voice how I feel, think or would like to say. It’s very important to break down the barriers and stand for what you believe in if you have the ability to do so.

on her own

How did you come up with the name Slutmouth?

For years I went by my name Bettie Hope; that name on my artwork never really sat right with me – I loved the idea of having an alter ego where I can really express myself and not feel so attached to it, if I needed to walk away and start again I could.

It took days and days to figure out what I wanted to be called. Slutmouth was the first idea that popped into my head, I was really into listening to Girlpool at the time, but I kept talking myself out of it. In the end I felt so strongly about the name I said Fuck it and drew my logo up right then. The reason the name Slutmouth

resonated with me so much is because of the struggle I faced as a young woman in a world of people who are just rude, inappropriate and feel they can slut shame womxn, so in reality it was me taking ownership of that and hopefully turning it into something positive. It’s still a funny process when trading at events and people see my brand name; some people are often shocked shuffle away very quickly, others adore the name and I can only think that it’s because they also resonate with it.

Well I adore it – Your art really has playfulness, passion & purpose behind it – it’s art that means & says something to me – but the tongue & cheekness also makes me smile…..where do you get your inspiration from for your work?

My first real inspiration for the ‘Off Beat’ project was my late friend Gary Pearson. I met him when I was in second year of University and he was in first year, he bounced into our room wearing this wonderful leather gimp mask; I was so excited and we instantly became friends. We chatted about so much; sex, relationships, music and it made me realise I wanted to be as open and make my work more personal to myself.

I started this process back in secondary school when I made a giant ragdoll that was supposed to be me. I think it’s very important to constantly looks inwards and challenge yourself to as authentic as possible.  Gary was such a fabulous leather daddy creature who introduced me to Tom of Finland. I’m honoured to have known him during that period of time; he really helped me begin to understand myself.

Equality

In your pieces, you explore feminism, identity, sexuality, queerness, empowerment, sex, bodies, being human…. Can you tell me about that?

I think the themes I explore are things that I have difficulty within the sense that I struggle to understand them within myself, and they then become things I can deal with. I also use my work as a platform for others and try to voice my thoughts through my work. Like I mentioned earlier I feel it’s very important to challenge the ‘norm’ and stand up for what you believe in, also to speak up for those who can’t find their own voice, you might become the thing that inspires them to do so.

I’m working on several feminist projects at the moment – and supporting several too. What do you think it means to be a feminist in 2020? What does it mean to you?

I think feminism is different for everyone; for me it’s about equality for all womxn and providing a safe space for us all to live and grow in whilst supporting each other to do the same. I love to explore feminist themes within my work to outline the struggles womxn still deal with today. The world can be a tough and nasty place and in recent years it seems as though we are taking huge steps backward in the western world, there are a lot of topics that can be covered within feminism, it can be quite overwhelming sometimes when thinking of social issues not just for womxn but for all sentient beings as I would like to help wherever I can, but sometimes you have to leave that fight for others; you can only do your best and so much but even then, that can make a huge difference.

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Tell me about your involvement with Sassify Zine Issue #7? What is Sassify for those who don’t know?

Sassify Zine is a platform to local and international LGBTQ+ artists and they aim to be advocates for meaningful change and education about the queer community. It is a not-for-profit Queer culture print magazine giving you all the best queer art and sassiness. In the Queer Heroes #7  issue the work I have featured is a digital illustration  named ‘Femme and Fierce’ and the ‘Luxury Period’ piece that was also exhibited at The Art of Being Queer exhibition, at the exhibition it was framed in ornate golden frame, but for the magazine its styled and photographed to look like a sanitary towel that is almost functional. If anyone is interested in seeing what I have featured then you can pre order the zine on http://www.sassifyzine.com

I was a lurker on your Insta for some time before I stumbled on to your work at The Art of Being Queer exhibition last year, which was absolutely the highlight of Middlesbrough Art Weekender – how did you get featured and what was the experience like of being featured?

Pineapple black was and still is an absolute Hub of creativity; my friend Gav Paughan who is a fantastic textiler, creates gorgeous gold work masks and wearables, was working in the studio space that he won and he was working on a new project something along those lines, another very busy artist.. anyway he got talking to Josh the guy that runs The Art of Being Queer blog and got himself in the exhibition and name dropped me – Josh contacted me and I submitted imagery of my work to be exhibited.

It was an amazing experience, I had lots of fun and it was unreal to be surrounded by the sheer amount of amazing artists I couldn’t quite believe the level of quality I was witnessing. The opening night was fantastic and the exhibition really stepped up the mark for the Middlesbrough Art scene, I’m very much looking forward to keeping an eye on where The Art of being Queer travels to next. In the mean time you can head over to the blog and keep up to date with more established and emerging queer artists.

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Of course, I fell in love with your “Period Products Are A Necessity Not A Luxury” embellished sanitary pad exhibited….Can you tell me about the piece and the process of making it?

Wow thank you – this piece was created to highlight just one of many issues within period poverty. I started to create the piece just as embroidered typography, then during the process I had a brain wave whilst embroidering into the bleached calico to create a sanitary pad shape. I wasn’t sure if I was taking it too far at this point it was around 1am and I may have been delirious, but it was obviously the best kind of delirious.

I went on the search for a sanitary pad to get the shape accurate and began to incorporate the shape into my design, I then started to think how I could stuff it and make it 3D, from that point the typography read “Period Products Are A Necessity Not A Luxury” .

Another brain wave later; I decided to make it look like it had been used, which I would have preferred to have known at the start, but It was very organic the way this piece established itself in my brain. Once the watercolour had dried, I then began to embellish with a pearl trim and golden chain to make it seem unwearable and luxury. I had so much fun creating this piece I felt like I went back to my roots when doing so.

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You make some products like tea towels & pom poms – I’m surprised I’ve got this long into the questions before asking about the pom poms….LOVE pom poms (also a tea towel….very underrated in my experience) – tell me about your products?

My products are all handmade or hand finished; for example the T-shirts, I buy are organic cotton but I would then screen print the designs or hand embroider onto them. Any designs digitally printed are my own, but I source the digitally printing in the UK and then make up the product myself on the sewing machine. It’s just putting my artwork on different surfaces, I would eventually like to create garments alongside accessories, and play around with wallpaper again. I like to keep myself very busy if I’m not exhibiting my work, I’m trading sellable stock at fairs and on my website. I have just always loved to make sellable things since being around 16 years old and studying design crafts, at this age I also started to organise my own craft events.

jesus is a drag queen

Tell me about fuzzy bosom? What is it? When the next “thing”?

Fuzzy Bosom is a side company I have set up with my lovely friend Adele Catchpole. We studied at Uni together and became very close; whilst at Uni I was the President of the SU and Adele was my VP – we started to put on events for other students there such as zine fairs and designer maker fairs.

We both have our own freelance businesses but we saw that Hartlepool was lacking in this field; we also wanted to offer bespoke artist workshops for the community along with a platform for local artists. It is also a lot of work to organise an event on your own, so we decided to join forces and share the load and thus the Fuzzy team was formed. We have lots of amazing ideas, and more events to plan, but we are both moving homes at the moment; so we have put it on the back burner for a few weeks before we get back to it. We have recently ran a weaving workshop and screen-printing workshop during the Stand Together event in Hartlepool.

What’s the art scene like over in Hartlepool? I want to make a day trip of going there – where should I be visiting? What should I be seeing?

The art scene is pretty strong; the place is heaving with creativity at the Bis Centre on Whitby street, in the Northern School of Art, Hartlepool Art club and The Art Gallery. The main art scenes are music events that have community arts projects involved I find, which is why we set Fuzzy Bosom up.

I am also admin to the NE: Creatives group on Facebook which was formed to give local artists access to specialist opportunities. You should certainly check out my students, they are superbly talented, I am the National Saturday Art Club tutor, based in the Centre of Excellence in Creative Arts, the students are aged 14-16, the group bridges the gap between school and college and really gives the students the opportunity to develop specialist art skills that can develop into a career.

We have recently been creating a GIANT pom pom which I am super excited about and I’m sure you will be too, so I will send you photos when our hard work is complete. We have also been working on self-portraits and hand embroideries. You need to check out our Instagram to see the raw talent these emerging artists have its @northernartsatclub.

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This week is International Women’s Week…. Any womxn artists that I should be checking out/aware of/inspire you?

I am surrounded by so many amazing femxle artists that are local so I will name drop a few! Just Harry Designs, Cat Call, Adele Catchpole, Jade Lenehan, Kirsty Jade Designs, Betty and the Lovecats, Mandas Cat, Make it Reign Studio, Hun North East, Molly Arnold, Lucy Alice Winter, Hairy Yetti, Laura Moon, Wild Lamb and Megabethpaints–  Just to name some off the top of my head, some serious talent!!

Well that was a total feast for me to discover….What awaits you in 2020? Any projects you can give me flavour of?

The first project that awaits me is finishing unpacking in my new studio. Then at some point this I will be creating some new pieces that will be exhibited at the ‘Wild Slut’ Wild Lamb and Slutmouth Collaboration exhibition date TBC.

I will also be trading my wares the following day at Base Camp which is host to GRL 2020 an event packed with live music, street food and a feminist market. Sunday the 15th of March I am going to be chatting with Chantal from Sister Shack on Pride Radio. I’m not really sure what the rest of the year entails, but I know it’s going to be an exciting one, I can feel it. Check out my Instagram @slutmouthdesign and website http://www.slutmouth.co.uk to stay up to date in the world of Slutmouth.

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Well thank you….if I wasn’t in love with Bettie before – I sure am after this interview. And what a perfect week to share this interview, than on International Women’s Day WEEK!

And that’s all for now Culture Vultures.

Women’s House exhibition: a transformed Tyneside flat exploring feminism from diverse perspectives.

A few months ago, I was contacted out of the blue, by artist Padma Rao about her upcoming exhibition ‘Women’s House’ with fellow artist Miki Z. The exhibition (and wider project) inspired by Judy Chicago sees a flat in South Shields transformed into a gallery space, exploring feminism in social, political, cultural and historical contexts and the notion of “otherness”  through various art forms. This exhibition is a culmination of research, individual and collaborative interrogations, conversations, workshops with diverse women, and discussions with artists through a symposium.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

I get contacted all the time with exhibition information but this really triggered my interest for several reasons….

Firstly, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Judy Chicago, pioneering feminist artist, author and educator is having her work exhibited at The Baltic (until April 2020). The AMAZING exhibition at The Baltic spans Chicago’s fifty-year career, from her early actions in the desert in the 1970s, to her most recent series, The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction (2013–16), which has not been previously shown outside of the US. As a feminist, I’ve admired and been away of Chicago for some time, so any project that is inspired by her work is something I want to see and be involved in.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Secondly, it’s a genuine community engagement project. So many exhibitions and art projects have “tokenistic” engagement! This is not the case for Women’s House – they worked tirelessly over the last year engaging with community groups, organisations, artists, peers, researchers etc – having meaningful interactions with the wider community and creating opportunities for people to collaborate with the project. I really believe “co-creation” (artists working with the community) enables higher quality art work and more interesting outputs.

Thirdly, it’s a gallery in a South Shields flat; I love that concept on its own. It’s so interesting when you watch people in traditional gallery spaces, “gallery behaviour” exhibited and the audience barriers erected once art is put in a traditional gallery space. Instead with Women’s House – you’re greeted by either Padma or Miki, offered a cup of tea and then free to explore the ‘living room’, ‘ kitchen’, ‘bedroom’ and ‘bathroom’. It’s lush, it’s relaxed and it feels very special.

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Finally, at its core is the exploration of feminism and different experiences of feminism via different art forms and cultural expression. I’m a passionate and proud feminist – I’m so interested at the fact the word “feminist” can have such triggered and polarised response. In the past, when I’ve supported a feminist art project, I’ve received some pretty horrible messages from people who really dislike feminists. And in championing this exhibition so far – whilst the responses have been really lovely and positive, there have been a few “stop with your feminist agenda pushing” or “I hate feminists”. Being a feminist is just about being a good human….

I went to view Women’s House a few weeks ago and it was so beautiful. Different art forms and styles in each room; there was a feeling of questioning, exploring, challenging the representations of women in various cultures and storytelling. The bathroom featured the work of members from Sunderland Women’s Art Group; over six weeks, members worked with Miki Z and Denise Lovell to explore domesticity, cross-cultural identities and gendered roles in the context of feminism. Some of this work is presented on sanitary wear including pads and tampons – which I just loved and extended debate around, why sanitary pads are STILL classes as luxury products and period poverty.

Women’s House is available to view until 20th December – they welcome individuals, community groups – anyone and everyone to get in touch to view by appointment via projectsangini@gmail.com . It’s a must see for feminists and art lovers alike.

I was lucky enough to interview Padma and Miki just before the exhibition opened to find out more! This interview was one my favourites as Culture Vulture and is peppered with such honesty from two fantastic creative humans!

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Well hello both, so if we could start at the beginning…tell my readers who you are and what your arts’ practice is?

Padma: My name is Padma Rao and I am a contemporary visual artist, practicing abstract painting and contemporary drawing.

I am passionate about women’s issues and equality, and through my work I investigate the role and status of women in our current society, especially within the South Asian cultures. I use of traditional materials, such as vermillion and turmeric. Though my work is largely experimental and abstract, I include figurative elements as part of the narrative.

I have worked extensively in the arts and the wider cultural, voluntary arts sector in a variety of roles, including arts manager, poet as well as Diversity officer at the Arts Council of England and as an advisor on the panel for Sunderland City of Culture Bid 2021. Having left my job at the Arts Council of England, I have since set up a social enterprise ArtsConnect that runs an art studio/ gallery ‘Makaan’ in South Shields and works as part-time manager at Sangini, a BME led women’s charity in Tyneside.

Miki: I am Miki Z, a visual artist and natural builder. My creative practice is based on experimentation where process is as important as finished product. A significant element of my work centers on materialiality as well as collaboration. Play and accidents are an integral part of my creativity, working in a tactile way across materials. Alongside theoretical research, my practice is a point of research which deepens and informs my thinking process. This fluid approach draws in elements of installation, performance and community participation.

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The Storytellers – Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

So tell me about your journey into the Arts?

Padma: I have always been interested in writing and painting. I  have loved drawing since my childhood and studied literature in India.  I grew up in an artistic environment where music and literature was part of our daily lives as my mother was a classical musician and my father played guitar.  I wrote stories which were printed in local literary magazines and a collection of my poems was published while I was at college.

As a first-generation immigrant in the 80s, I found that the arts sector for the diverse artists wasn’t that developed and it was quite isolating. Much later, I entered the arts sector as a volunteer, helping out to put dance events on in Newcastle for Kala Sangam, Bradford. I also volunteered for a writing group in South Shields. Whilst developing knowledge and skills, organising workshops, I continued to practice my own work around painting, drawing and literature. It was during this, I learnt about the wider arts sector and the disconnect that existed for Black minority ethnic artists, arts organisations both at personal as well as wider level.  This marginalisation of Black artists concerned me and I began asking how can I instil pride in my daughter who was growing up as part of this society but had not experienced the richness of different cultural expressions around her. The history she was told in her school as part of her curriculum was not the history I grew up with about the British Raj and India.

I realised that the picture wasn’t right and in order to correct the picture, it was important that I was part of that narrative.  It was during this time, the Arts Council of England rolled out its ACE Fellowship programme, a fast track senior management training programme for Black, Asian and Chinese arts professionals who, despite working in the industry for a long time, found it hard to gain an entry point into the arts. It was the first-time Arts Council had recognised the lack of representation of BME artists and arts professional within the arts and it became a turning point for me. I was placed at ARC, Stockton where I learnt about all aspects of arts management, programming, marketing, events co-ordination, funding and finance.  Finally, I progressed to work as Diversity officer at the Arts Council of England, North East where worked till 2011.

At 50, I decided to leave my job to become a full-time artist, but that road has not been easy and it took me further 8 years to finally arrive at this point to show my work publicly with the Women’s House project.  All this time, I kept working in the arts with Sangini, creating projects involving women, highlighting women’s issues, took on governance roles with various organisations which contributed to the depth of experience that I am able to bring to my art today.

Miki: I studied 3D Design at Northumbria University 20 years ago. I left feeling completely disengaged with art and design, creativity had been educated out of me.  Some years later I started an abstract painting class with Linda Kent. I found I could connect with this way of seeing the world and letting the materials inform expression.  Alongside this, I attended various community arts workshops as a participant; this encouraged me to find a way back into my own creativity and the value of the arts.

What made you turn your house into a gallery space?

Padma: The gallery space is called Makaan, in Hindi/Urdu it means a house (that inhabits art and artists)

I feel passionately about the transformative power of the arts and know how ‘spaces’ can play an important role in giving access to rich, life changing arts experience.  Not everyone is able to, or likes to or comfortable to go to galleries, thus the buildings can become barriers in engaging public in the arts.  So, by converting this terraced flat into an art space I plan to bring the arts to the people. It exists quietly as part of a residential neighbourhood and has welcomed artists, women and people from diverse communities.

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Padma – Tracing The Evanescent

Tell me how the project came about and developed over time?

Miki: Woman’s House came about after many conversations Padma and I had shared over the years about our shared interest in feminist issues, working with women’s groups and our own creative practices. One question kept coming up in these discussions- Why could we not make our art and developing as artists be the most important thing in our lives?  We both felt passionately about pursuing this as a priority.  It became clear that there where many reasons why this didn’t happen. Everything else in life was given more importance -caring for people, doing other work just to survive, putting other projects and people first before ourselves.  Alongside these practical concerns, the underlying narrative is equally important. We have not valued ourselves as artists, the immense feelings of guilt spending time developing our creativity and under confidence in expressing our identity in the world.

In 2015 I visited New York where I went to see The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. It was a fantastic and inspiring opportunity to see this iconic piece of work. What I was most struck with was the time spent working with hundreds of participants to create this striking art work. The highly skilled use of craft techniques, often seen as women’s work to depict each element is incredible.  It is an impressive collaboration between people, technical skills and ideas.

Padma: In 2018 while visiting a major women’s art exhibition in Paris, I saw some of the other work from the original project Womanhouse, 1972 the iconic project about women and domesticity by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro.

The Womanhouse, 1972 presented a variety of feminist art by various women including sculptures, performances, installations in a mansion, making this into a large scale site-specific installation, challenging the status quo around women’s issues and patriarchy.

The experience of seeing the original work by Judy Chicago was transformational; however, the exhibition presented a White, heterosexual, middle-class female perspective leaving a particular gap around Black and LGBTQ perspectives.

I got back from Paris and spoke to Miki at length about the exhibition I had seen and how these issues were still relevant, especially in the light of the Centenary of the Suffragette movement and the #MeToo campaign.  That’s when we decided to revisit the original exhibition Womanhouse. We both felt that there were still conversations to be had using Judy Chicago’s project as a departure point.  We wanted to understand how feminism is understood and defined by women from the BME and LGBTQ communities.

Four decades on, Women’s House considers BME and LGBTQ women’s narratives around some of the issues they are facing in current times in the light of the wider political, social and demographical changes.

What is it about Judy Chicago that you find so inspiring?

Both: The work of Judy Chicago opens a way to start dialogues about feminist issues.  Her iconic work Womanhouse seemed to fit well in the realms of what we had been talking about over the years, we both identified with parts of this particular work. The house being a main element of significance.  Padma had already converted a Tyneside flat into a studio/ gallery and my recent additional career direction in working in sustainable construction.

Having seen her work before, we both have a particular connection to Judy Chicago’s work. The tenacity, the boldness and expansiveness in her work has deeply inspired us to explore a lot of issues through our own lenses.  Her work has been pioneering in putting women’s work in a main stream context; highlighting women artists in their own right giving voice to feminist  ideas. It provided a radical language of expression for artists and viewer at a time when second wave feminism was active. Her work has influenced our own practice giving us courage in our own expression and aided more direction in enquiry within our creativity.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Tell me about some of the events and groups that you’ve engaged with so far as part of the project?

Both: The framework for this project included workshops with community groups, a networking lunch for artists and a symposium.

We held six workshops with 30 BME and LGBTQ  women across Tyne and Wear with the aims of the workshops were to engage women in a discussion around the themes explored in Women’s House using creative approaches help elicit visual narratives.

We also worked with Sunderland women’s art group and facilitated the process of developing an idea into a visual piece, enabling them to make site-specific art pieces for this exhibition.

We hosted a networking lunch for artists; eight BME and LGBTQ women artists were be invited to take a critical view on the issues of feminism and the impact on their personal lives and the artistic practice. What transpired was prioritising space for more in-depth conversations in the future about these discussions.

Finally, a symposium – Working in partnership with National Glass Centre; Sangini organised the symposium whereby a panel of women artists and art professionals were invited to present their views and experiences of Women centric work in the context off feminism in current times.

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

What do you want the audience experience to be when they visit the exhibition?

Miki: I want the audience to be challenged by the work created both collectively and individually.  Part of the exhibition is an immersive space to be viewed by minimal light enabling a space for individual imagination and narratives to be added into their own perception of the work. Their part of the story is an important aspect of this work; the boundaries are in no way solid, providing fluid interpretation.  I would like the audience to experience an emotional response to the work.

Padma: The work is largely visceral, personal and emerges out of deep introspection, unravelling small incidents with great care and honesty.  We are telling stories and I hope the audience is able to pick up on these threads and explore personal stories long after they have seen the exhibition.

Why do you think this exhibition and project is important?

Miki: This project is really just a starting point of opening the discussions around intersectionality. The uncomfortable, unsaid things are of interest to me, many of these topics have only been touched upon within this project. The tensions we see around our communities are real, but how do we address them? This project has started to make a space for dialogues between different women from diverse background. There is so much fear involved in talking about the real issues, the way we see ourselves in our own context and then how we may be able to see ourselves in a wider context.  Creating a safe space to have, what might, for many be unsafe conversations is challenging.  Using the creative process and facilitated sessions is a tool opening cross sectional dialogue.

Padma: This project is an important point of transition for me as an artist as it has helped me to affirm my identity, develop an understanding of the collaborative practice as well as my own individual practice.  Many of the issues explored in this project more in-depth conversations both internal as well as externally at wider levels.  Aside from the issues of race and sexuality, there are plethora of other issues that prevent women from leading a decent day to day life which goes to show that more is needed to achieve a level playing field.

The exhibition is personal yet it’s also reflective of the wider narratives we have encountered while working on this project.  It’s a conversation piece between Miki and I, a portrayal of the female world, as we saw it and experienced it.

This project helped us to link up with Baltic and the Women’s House exhibition coincides with Judy Chicago’s exhibition at Baltic. This is a major co-incidence which we are not taking it lightly. We are delighted with the opportunity to work with Baltic on this and we will be hosting an event to mark Judy Chicago’s exhibition.

Can you tell me about some of the pieces and the processes behind the making?

The Storytellers

Padma: A collaborative, immersive, site specific piece that draws on intersections of our identities in terms of race and sexuality.

This piece uses the techniques of Warli tribal art from India, where the outside walls of the house are painted in red natural pigment and using rice flour and water, women depict their daily lives on the painted surface.  We have used this traditional art form to portray our stories in the contemporary British context.  Using white line drawings, both Miki and I have attempted to bring together our experiences over the past year.

The piece creates an immersive environment, presented in a darkened room where viewers are invited to see the work using small hand-held lights, restricting their view of the artwork as a whole.  The viewers will only see parts of the work, forcing them to develop their own narrative/s based on the limited view of the installation.

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Tracing The Evanescent

Padma: “Can’t remember the last time a south Asian female figure was portrayed in a mainstream art gallery.’

This became the starting point as I began investigating into the notion of feminism among South Asian women who are often seen as ‘passive’. This concern was further widened with questions such as, ‘Where are the stories of South Asian female activism?’  ‘Why there are very few or little South Asian female stories represented in the galleries or museums?’ ‘Where is the South Asian feminist art in the UK?’ After much research, there is a distinct lack of narratives to assert British South Asian feminist voices, especially through creative expressions.

This piece is a series of process based drawings involving the act of mark-making and erasure as the main method to ‘trace’ the lost or hidden faces of women of South Asian descent. What began as a quest for stories of feminist art expression among South Asian women artists, soon became a concern. There has been a distinct lack of narratives of the British South Asian feminist voices, especially through creative expressions.

Angry and upset, I began rendering by drawing and erasing the faces in a repeated fashion, as if to experience the notion of invisibility that happens to the women on daily basis. In some of the drawings, by slowly making the circular gestural marks over the face, thus partially covering the faded face, I was able to connect deeply and emotionally with these women.

Who are these women?  Despite the concern about the lack of presence of feminist expressions, what I found exciting was the ordinary and the everyday acts of feminism which pervade these women’s lives.  Hence, the largely lost or hidden faces of ordinary women who are brave, courageous and strong become the heroines and their narratives are explored through their gaze and emotional state. They are portrayed in oversized scale using charcoal, graphite and kumkum (vermillion).

Exploring Other

Miki Z: A process led investigation into gendered space both physical and emotional. Using abstract lines, mixed media and water colours, it explores the queer space in-between, capturing the non-binary state of depiction of a person. It’s open to challenging those boundaries, disrupting the binary position. Using intuitive way of working, there is the accidental or the unseen. What happens on the paper informs the next.  There is fluidity and sense of movement in the pieces that allow the viewers to gain a sense of flow that is largely internal, feeling like they are floating in a space of their own occupying a liminal space.

Sum the exhibition up in 3 words?

Both: Immersive, poetic, bold

What do you think about the current North East creative scene?

Both: The North East creative scene is a unique place to showcase as well as experience fabulous arts and culture.  Just take Sunderland and you can see how a city is transforming its cultural landscape through great music, dance, festivals and visual arts from across the world.  Despite the squeeze on funding, there are great advocates for the arts in the North East who keep fighting for the region and that gives us hope for the future. We do need more diverse artists from the region and their voices to come through and more diversity of audience participation, especially inclusive of minority ethnic, disability and LGBTQ communities.

Tell me about an artist that you find in the present, super inspiring?

Padma: There are several artists that I often refer to, depending on the subject I’m working on, for inspiration and to learn from; Kara Walker, Kiki Smith, Chitra Ganesh and Zarina Hashmi to name a few. But the one artist whose work I find particularly inspiring and deeply interesting, in terms of drawing, is Julie Mehretu.  Mehretu’s work is multi-layered with marks, architectural shapes, designs to create complex large scale abstract paintings.  I have not seen her work, but I am sure it will be just as transformational as it has been with Judy Chicago’s work when I saw it for the first time in Paris.

Miki: Throughout this project I decided not to do research on other queer or BME female artists. I was more interested in theoretical research which in turn influenced my creative practice becoming research, ideas and thoughts. The main area of importance for me goes hand in hand with my other work as a builder in various ways. Looking at gendered space as a concept, how we interact with spaces around us and how space is conveyed on a two dimensional plain.

Tell me about another project you’ve worked on?

Padma: Last year, I produced a retrospective for a national Rangoli artist Ranbir Kaur at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

Miki: As well as being an artist I am a natural builder.  During my recent postgraduate degree in Belgium I was involved in the design and build of a women’s centre in a village in Morocco. Through this experience I have become motivated in researching practical design principles for best practice in working with marginalised  communities.

What’s next for you in 2020?

Both: We plan to carry on developing our collaborative work, expanding narratives working with communities to make larger scale artworks taking over public spaces.

Miki: In the next year I have many projects I aim to undertake, part research, part practice where one will influence the other.  I will attempt to undertake a research project which focuses on gendered space, crossing between physical built environment, body, emotional and the place in-between.  Alongside this I want to produce a body of work that crosses between my abstract art work and technical skills working with lime and clay in construction. Melding the two disciplines together.

Padma:  ‘The Female’ – as in consciousness, a metaphysical body, remains a primary concern of my work.  I would like to continue exploring some of the issues I uncovered during my research on this project, such as the notion of visibility, migration and identity from a feminist perspective. I have been deeply moved by the recent forced mass migration of Rohyingyas in Myanmar, but this is not in isolation. Mass movement of people is symptomatic of where humanity is at right now and I plan to develop a body of work on this topic.

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Wow…..I’ve loved this interview. I could talk about all of this all day – I really love when personal passions become the inspiration for projects. It’s all about people power!

Women’s House is available to view until 20th December – they welcome individuals, community groups – anyone and everyone to get in touch to view by appointment via projectsangini@gmail.com. It’s a must see for feminists and art lovers alike.

(#AD) An Interview with Workie Ticket Theatre – giving a voice to communities & human stories through theatre making….. #womenwarriors

One of my favourite things about being the Culture Vulture, is that I get to meet people who are truly living and breathing their passion – independent folks making real changes and a big difference to people in the North. Passion and purpose is what gets me out of bed in a morning, and I love to connect with others who connect with theirs.

Workie Ticket Theatre Company is a company of brilliant humans doing just that – they first came to my attached due to the name. As a bit of a “workie ticket” myself – I appreciated their branding……. For that don’t know – a “workie ticket” is a Geordie term for someone who is a bit mischievous, a tinker, someone who pushes the boundaries, pushes their luck……..but in a likeable way. I’m all about pushing boundaries so I really embrace the term and the Workie Ticket ethos.

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Workie Ticket are doing amazing things in the North East– their first project came to my attention on social media. Hear Her Roar, celebrated and gave a platform to brave, bold new writing by some of the North East’s most exciting playwrights. Giving a platform to new talent is something I’m really passionate about and part of my purpose as Culture Vulture so it’s lush to see others championing equitable opportunities. Their current project ‘Women Warriors’ is extremely important and gives voices to the stories of female veterans on stage- stories that haven’t been told, silenced and disempowered – so I was thrilled to be invited over to The Exchange in North Shields to meet JoJo Kirtley founder and co-Artistic director of WT and Lindsay Nicholson, co-Artistic Director of WT. We had some amazing chat about things we’d like to change in the theatre industry in the North East and it was an ace opportunity for a Culture Vulture interview and to find out more about Women Warriors on 9th October at The Exchange at 7pm – tickets are available to purchase HERE.

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Hi JoJo & Lindsay, right so for my reader and fellow Culture Vultures….Who are you?

JoJo Kirtley, founder of WT and co-Artistic director. I write, produce and facilitate. I am originally from Newcastle but I’ve spent a lot of my career in Manchester.

Lindsay Nicholson, Co-Artistic Director of WT. I’m a performer, facilitator and producer.

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Tell me about your journey into theatre?

JoJo– I went to Longbenton High School where I was introduced to drama because of my drama teacher, Ian Williams. He believed in me at a time when I was struggling. I fell in love with Brecht instead of Shakespeare, but I wanted to learn more about how to run a theatre. So, I worked in theatres as an usher, back-stage hand, in the box office and marketing whilst I was at Uni. I studied for my Masters degree in Theatre Studies at Manchester Uni and I then went into youth work and teaching drama to young people excluded from school.

I never saw myself as a writer. Never had that belief in myself. I didn’t write my first play until I was 26, when I was on maternity leave with my son, Tom. I had entered a Royal Exchange competition and later wrote ‘Loaded’ which was produced at 24:7 Theatre Festival. I fell into producing when I was pregnant again with Ry and my pals, Rob and Martin needed a producer to help produce their play, “Away From Home” which I did taking a baby every where with me!

Lindsay – My background is performance. I was in my first musical at the age of 9 – ‘Brigadoon’ – I’ve never been able to stand the sound of Bag Pipes since… After my degree in Performing Arts, I fell out of love with the theatre industry and ended moving into event management and art curation, I enjoyed running a Multi-Purpose Art Space in 2010, moving on to coordinate events at a queer-led art space – both non-profit Pop Ups that aren’t here today but I am immensely thankful for those opportunities that taught me how to deal with floods, minor electrocution and how to zip up a 6-foot-odd, bearded drag queen into a Care Bear dress.

I’ve had the privilege of working and living in some amazing places, teaching Drama one Summer in New York, working on the events team at Melbourne Arts Centre for two years in Australia and a year spent in-between Tokyo and Bali for an events and hospitality company. I realised however I was being pulled back to my original communities and the art of story-telling… I decided to return home and “dip my toe in” the acting world again. JoJo punished me with an 18 minute monologue and since then we have become sound friends and now business partners.

Tell me about Workie Ticket? What is it? How did it start? Inspiration behind it?

JoJo – I had a story I wanted to tell; my story and I wanted to be my own boss, when it came to writing (I am not good with people telling me what to do). I feel like the North East has a very male-dominated theatre industry and there isn’t many opportunities for women.

So, I set my own company up to create those opportunities-first it was just a group of us who primarily to wanted to raise money for Newcastle Women’s Aid and raise awareness about domestic abuse. Then, I realised that I could develop it further but I couldn’t do it on my own so I asked Lindsay to Workie Ticket too. Best thing I ever did!

We’re now a female-led theatre company who want to push boundaries and empower the people we work with through theatre. Essentially, I just want to tell stories that make audiences sit up and listen.

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I got goose bumps hearing that…Tell me about Women Warriors?  

JoJo – I was at a women’s mental health conference and I saw a post it note that read, “What about female veterans?” and I thought…..GOOD question, what about them? It haunted me…how come I had never thought about women who fight for this country?  Eventually, after some research I met up with Paulie from ‘Salute Her’ and we talked about me writing a play but I started to think that these women needed more…so Women Warriors was born…

Women Warriors has been devised by engaging female veterans through forum theatre and discussion-based workshops. We also spoke to a lot of women veterans at groups and meetings. Some rang us up and told us their stories.

Our main aim with WW is to contribute to their empowerment whilst creating a dialogue about how to support veteran rehabilitation through creative methods. We wanted to centre the lived experiences of female veterans, women who are often socially isolated, overlooked and suffering from lack of support in a theatre production but make it real. We also wanted to raise awareness of the challenges female veterans face in society such as prejudice, discrimination, abuse and PTSD but also celebrate these women. We were lucky to be funded by the Newcastle University Social Fund and work with Dr Alice Cree who is writing about our methodology. Other funders for this stage were Hospital of God, Sir James Knott, Greggs Foundation, Rothley Trust and the Joicey Trust.

Within a safe space, we have facilitated issue-based and forum theatre workshops to develop a series of short plays with five writers. We presented a rehearsed reading of our piece in July as part of our R&D in the build up to producing the first full production of ‘Women Warriors’ It was very well received and the veterans loved it; which was the main thing. Two days before the reading, the Arts Council confirmed funding the full productions and I remember thinking, if the veterans don’t like it then I will send the money back! And I would have.

But luckily, they loved it….and one said to me this week that they felt like they could open up more now and talk about their experiences.

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What can audience members going to see Women Warriors on 9th October at The Exchange expect?

JoJo – I don’t think you can really define this production. Expect to be shocked. Expect to cry and laugh. Bring tissues. There are some real moments of heartache which are pretty-hard hitting.

What do you want audiences to take away?

Lindsay – Really quite simply that they will think about female veterans from now. The audience may be more informed in why people sign up to serve. It is not the same for everybody…

JoJo – When we first started working with the veterans, I thought we would struggle to connect but they are an amazing group of women. I hope audiences see that.

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Lindsay – Bike, dyke, frigid?

Talk me through the process of developing the show up to this point? Who have you worked with?

Lindsay – We made a connection with Charity – Forward Assist to engage with female veterans based around the North and developed a core group of veterans that attended our workshops and…

We knew right away that we would employ practitioner Rosa Stourac McCreery to deliver Forum Theatre Workshops. We see Forum Theatre as a tool for change, it’s an active empowering process – we knew this was the kind of theatre these strong, brave women would be interested in learning about and using. Rosa, also an experienced Director is directing the piece, considering the essence of the female veterans participation at all times.

Dr Alice Cree is an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow in critical military studies and political geography at Newcastle University. Alice contacted us to see if she could follow our process for our research originally, but has become a vital part of our team on this project, advising us, drawing academic attention to our work facilitating collaborations and even helping us win funding bids. She is a real Workie Ticket.

Bridgelight Media – We absolutely love these guys!  A young, female led, media company who create sublime work, and have been great supporters of Workie Ticket.  They created our short documentary which perfectly captures our process and the veteran’s voices.

Great North Museum granted us free rehearsal space when they learned of our project and were a great host for our Rehearsed Reading event. It’s interesting to be able to playact in such a beautiful space with so much weight. It’s pretty rad to know that on the other side of your workshop space there are dinosaurs!

JoJo – Even my sister was involved, Dr Jenna Kirtley as she is a psychologist who specialises in working with veterans. She was there to offer support and advice.

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Tell me about the creative team behind it Women Warriors?

Lindsay – We have employed 4 incredible local playwrights to capture the stories and deliver them into short plays that explore issues the veterans raised in our workshops.

JoJo – Olivia Hannah has written an incredible play about being a mother after years of training as a soldier and the impact that has.  When we first read the play, we both cried.  Juliana Mensah writes about mental health within the military and when I watched it for the first time, I had goose bumps; such a clever piece of writing. Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock- whose piece explores homophobia in the Army has written a play that gives us hope. She worked with one particularly amazing female veteran who rang me out of the blue and said….please tell my story.

Our play is about a group of women who meet in a women’s veteran group and ask the question-what about female veterans? They also like to eat a lot of cake! I have also written all of the interlinking scenes which were the veterans’ real responses to particular questions we asked them questions like what it means to be a “woman warrior”?

Why did you chose The Exchange in North Shields as your venue?

JoJo – When I first started Workie Ticket, nobody knew me and I was finding a lot of closed doors from all the main theatre houses in Newcastle, which is standard. The Exchange was not one of them. Karen and Mike who run the Exchange were lovely and have always made me feel welcome. My sons come with me to a lot of meetings and now, they hang out there and go to their drama club. I genuinely feel like The Exchange is a lush place and I wish they were supported more.

Lindsay – We have a great relationship with The Exchange – they are very supportive. The venue is gorgeous and interesting and great theatre does happen outside the city centre believe it or not…;)

What does it feel like to give voices and opportunities to unheard and often overlooked folks? Why is it so important to you?

JoJo– It’s important because we’re living in a World where we need to speak up and speak out. It’s 2019 and I am still having the same argument about women’s rights as I did twenty years ago. I guess I don’t want to grow old (older…) and wonder why I let so many things happen without saying something.

Lindsay – It is really humbling when people share their stories with you – a great deal of responsibility goes into listening with sensitivity and then holding those stories with great care. It becomes your duty to bring awareness to these people’s experiences or struggles and it can be quite the challenge to make sure you are presenting it with the right respect, clarity and compassion. It’s important to us because it’s our way of fighting, our activism, to make these voices heard and to engage people into listening to them. By hosting and engaging people in these conversations we are on the first step of looking at affecting social change.  Theatre is a great tool for empathy.

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Tell me a bit about the previous project “Hear her Roar”?

JoJo – The HEAR HER ROAR project highlighted Tyneside women’s real stories and raised awareness of women’s issues such as domestic violence, working mothers, abortion, sexual assault and sexuality.

HEAR HER ROAR was our first major project, which celebrated the talents of North East women, collaborated with community groups and charities such as Newcastle Women’s Aid and promoted equality within the theatre industry. HEAR HER ROAR was successfully launched above the Bridge Hotel Pub in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, on 10th November 2017 as a night of script-in-hand performance of new short plays to give a flavour of our work and to highlight the specific themes.

We sold out.

We developed a network of creatives and we were even featured in The Guardian’s Readers’ Favourite theatre of 2017. I couldn’t believe it! In January 2018, we received funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Catherine Cookson Trust, respectfully to deliver our February to September educational programme which included a full-scale theatre performance of our plays for International Women’s Day at The Exchange in North Shields, on 10th March 2018 and was part of celebrating 100 years of Women’s suffrage.

Again, completely sold out!

We also collaborated with the Red Box Project to collect sanitary products for local schools and collected for Newcastle Women’s Aid. In total, we have raised over £1300 for Newcastle Women’s Aid.

Are you a real life Workie Tickets?

JoJo – Without a doubt. My Grandad Joe used to call me a workie ticket when I argued back with him and that’s where the name came from too. He was a bold man who I adored and a workie ticket himself. I am a trouble maker but for all the right reasons. People need to be challenged.

What does being a feminist in 2019 mean to you?

Lindsay – NECESSARY.

In 2019 I think now the responsibility is educating people about Feminism because there’s too much toxic language and attitudes towards it. Educating people that feminism doesn’t mean the reversal of power, “women taking over” – It’s equal rights, it’s women being safe, being heard.

There’s not any ‘one way’ to be a feminist or define feminism.  You have agency – I think people forget that, when they hear language of feminism, many people and communities do it their way, everyone can be a feminist in their own way. I may not conform to some women’s idea of Feminism but I take responsibility to empower women and I am making that my work. For Workie Ticket it has always been about giving women a voice, levelling out the playing field, pointing out injustices and inequality and advising or indeed leading conversations and actions on how to make a fairer society for everyone.

Sometimes feminism is nurturing my male friends when they have been victims of toxic masculinity and reminding them that they don’t have to be oppressed by or conform to harmful male stereotypes.  Feminism is the pursuit of freedom – for everyone.

JoJo – I have been a feminist since I was 10 years old. Things have only slightly changed and I am now 38. I read recently that Apple originally made Siri to deflect questions about feminism and the #metoo movement. That says it all for me. It’s like the modern day way that women are being silenced and written out of history! So, the fight for equality must go on. Only feminism in 2019 must be intersectional, otherwise, what’s the point?

What’s next for Workie Ticket after this?

Lindsay – We are currently in chats about taking Women Warriors to NATO annual conference in Brussels next year…which is scary and huge but also really necessary for us to speak truth to power. To have the opportunity to be starting to believe your practice could have the power to become Legislative Theatre is just incredible!  We are looking at touring the production and we will be crafting our drama for wellbeing programme so we will get to continue working with loads of other lovely communities.

JoJo – I would like a decent nights’ sleep and a spa break…with some rum.

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Thank you Lindsay and JoJo! YES……it’s so important that independents like Workie Ticket exist. It’s important to the women in the North, the talent in the region, community minded folks and proof that yes indeed, exciting new theatre exist in venues outside of the city centres – in fact some of the best theatre I’ve seen recently, is at venues like The Exchange.

So fellow Culture Vultures, two bits of advice:

  1. Join me, on 9th October at The Exchange for Women Warriors – there are still tickets available to purchase.
  2. Embrace your inner Workie Ticket….we all need to be workie tickets in today’s society to make the changes we want to see.

Over and Out.

This Is Not A Wedding; wedding parties, anarchy and dance….

For this Culture Vulture Interview….i’ve got a goody! I wanted to interview them a few months ago but alas it did not work out. I’ve been watching Gracefool Collective from a far (queen of sounding creepy over here) for some time and their current touring show, is just SO Culture Vulture.

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Full of anarchy, songs you will love, an existential crisis and wedding bells….’This Is Not A Wedding’ is a must see show and it’s coming to Arts Centre Washington on 3rd October – you need to get your tickets ASAP! As someone who is full of anarchy myself, proud feminist and unmarried and over 30, this is all right up my street and so timely…….especially as Mama Horts talks like this on repeat…. ….

”So…when will you get married?”

“Girls with tattoos don’t look very nice in wedding dresses”

“It must not be very serious, if you’re not engaged yet?”

“I always wanted to wear a hat”

“Do you think you will ever get married”

“You know most people your age are married, with a house and kids….”

Uh huh. That’s a lot of pressure. For the record, I’d make a terrible “wife” in the traditional sense – that power relationship has never sat well with me since a child; I remember being so confused as to why women gave up their name and saying to my Mum, “but I really like my name”. I guess marriage is about compromise – but I’ve always seen it as losing my identity, something “grown-ups” did and like a bigger version of Christmas….and I hate Christmas.

However, I treated my 30th birthday like a wedding. It was MEGA – invitations, venue, cake, DJ, cheese cake tower, decorations, speeches, drinks on arrival and I devised a quiz all about myself for attendees……it was my 30th birthday and I can host a quiz about myself, if I want to…..

I digress…. So yeah, weddings aren’t for me. My pals aren’t really the type to get married either….. all in long term things but quite happy as they are. A part from my best Kate, who had the wedding to end weddings…..the only wedding I’ve ever really properly enjoyed going to. It was mint…. Such good time, good vibes and so much cheese. None of the boring stuff……it was genuinely lush and Kate’s take on a traditional wedding.

So I’m loving the sound of Gracefool Collectives’ new show and of course, I’m totally there seeing it at Arts Centre Washington on 3rd October (AND YOU CAN TOO – BY GETTING YOUR TICKETS HERE ) but I thought I’d catch up with Rachel from the company and find out more about these brilliantly talented folk who seem like my creative soul mates.

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Well hello, Rachel, from another Rachel! Do you think they’ve realised us Rachels’ are slowly taking over the world? Tell my readers a bit about you?

I’m Rachel from Gracefool Collective. We four Gracefools, make post-intellectual-pseudo-spiritual-feminist-comedy-dance.

Tell me about your journey into the arts?

I started via the classic route of a baby ballerina in the local pantomime in Bridport, Dorset. I did high octane roles such as ‘sunbeam’ and ‘jewel’ and ‘storm,’ before deciding I liked things a bit more abstract and took G.C.S.E. and A level contemporary dance. After a stint in the youth dance company in Dorset, I thought I’d give dance school auditions a try and somehow ended up at the amazing Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

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Ohhh I was a baby ballerina…..but I lack the necessary grace, precision and I’m not very girly….more stompy! So, how did Gracefool Collective start and what united you?

We were all in each other’s choreographies at NSCD and were united by a general creeping feeling that we found some contemporary dance a little beige. We figured out we preferred disco balls, satire and copious amounts of glitter and it snowballed from there.

In our third year, we made a work together which was an interactive auction with a rapper as the auctioneer and a barbershop quartet of phone bidders. You could bid on lots such as ‘true love,’ ‘mojo’ and my personal favourite, ‘ghost in a jar.’

Now, we make work which is feminist, forthright and fiercely funny. We make wildly entertaining interdisciplinary contemporary performances about the absurdities of modern existence. We aim to provoke, delight, and defy convention through a series of sketches, scenes and images that offer a mixture of play and provocation. This still comes with a side of glitter.

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Honestly, you are all my soul mates… I wish to be covered in glitter at all times and hear the call of the disco ball daily. So, tell me about the show at Arts Centre Washington in Sunderland? When is it?

‘This Is Not A Wedding’ captures the pressure of coming of age in a celebration event like no other. Four bridal-clad women desperately and determinedly offer new versions of long standing traditions reminiscent of rite of passage ceremonies. Over one hour, they embark on acts of anarchy, including a perfunctory sexy version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and an apocalyptic karaoke sermon featuring Edith Piaf. They roll down the aisle in a ball of brides, perform a robotic bridal march to Taking Head’s Road to Nowhere and make existential speeches questioning the meaning of life. The performers consistently negotiate with the audience – ‘guests’, asking for suggestions and appealing for feedback. Through fast-paced comedic scenes, we communicate our confusion about the expectations of adulthood, all whilst keeping our ‘guests’ satisfied. The pressure and tension of whether we have been successful is constantly questioned. You know that existential crisis about all your achievements that you have when you approach 30? We’ve tried to put that on stage!

This non-wedding event invites audiences to question the rigidity of life’s milestones, celebrating non-conformity, personal choice and the challenge of coming of age.

It’s at Arts Centre Washington on the 3rd October, 7.30pm, £9 / £7.50 (conc) / £5 (Students).

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Yep…. My life is on long existential crisis/ social experiment….. Why did you make a show about weddings? What was the inspo?

In all honesty we started by just wanting to a make a show which had a semi recognisable structure. We thought this might be easier to pin our ideas around! But as all good Gracefool pieces end up, slowly our personal crises entered the work. We were all questioning what we were doing with our lives and what the next steps were. That morphed it into a show which now doesn’t look like a wedding at all, but just uses the idea of the wedding or celebration event to frame our thoughts about the pressure of time and the deadlines society expects us to achieve.

When seeing the title, lots of people have asked if we don’t like weddings, but it’s not as clear cut as that. As feminists we naturally question the traditions that are expected of us as women, but we appreciate the power of bringing two families and communities together and the moments that celebrate being alive. Plus, we LOVE a good party.

Our questions are more about how this seems to still be considered the pinnacle of a woman’s success. There seems to be a point where everyone starts to question when you are going to get married or have children. Deviating from this norm can feel like a real rebellion or even be perceived as frightening or unacceptable. What if you have other priorities or beliefs?

Adding to that, there is a huge amount in the show about time – am I supposed to have done all the things I wanted to by now???

Really, we’re just giving you a window into the inner chaos of our minds.

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I do love chaos….So what can audience members expect and why should they come?

This Is Not A Wedding is for anyone interested in laughing, crying, singing, dancing, coming of age, coming together or coming apart at the seams. Come along for riotous fun, or as one of our audience members said,  “a bonkers hour of clowning & baffoonery … but like all excellent fooling [with] an undercurrent of deep questioning about life & it’s meaning”.

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Any audience feedback so far? Any quotes you can share?

Here are some of the best:

“@gracefoolC ‘s #Thisisnotawedding was brilliant – dark clowning with a serious undertone about life and existence …a Samuel Beckett in a wedding dress!”

“AMAZING! Anarchic, thoughtful, clever, unpredictable, contemplative- surprisingly moving at one moment of bleaker vulnerability. And just hilarious.”

“Totally joyous, cheeky, self-aware, laugh out loud fun and all wrapped up in poignancy. Winner.”

“Such a clever exploration of recognisable rituals, really rich with imagery, feisty and stylish. Impressive stuff.”

“Loved this last night! You’re a mighty, talented and gutsy collective of women with awesome comic timing #Thankyou”

“Thanks for having me, Gracefools! I laughed hard and long – congrats on another great show.”

“You guys completely cracked it…some of the best work I’ve seen in 30yrs in dance and theatre”

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Anarchic, raucous, unpredictable

Do you have an idea of your “perfect” wedding? (Mine has always been in trainers and non conventional – big party….artist commissions for the decorations)

A massive party with great (preferably unlimited) food and an excellent sound system. I’m getting married next year and there are alpacas at the venue. Perfect right?

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Yesss! If I was getting married Sebastian (my cat) would be my best man…..Why does society fixate on the brides dress? Why does society fixate on the traditions?

I don’t know really, it seems odd when you really look at it. The dress is such a big tradition – we know what a bride is ‘supposed’ to look like. We like things that make us feel part of the ‘group’ and if we all do the same then we’re part of that right?

Or, maybe there is so much uncertainty in life now maybe we like to hold on to things that feel certain? I guess that we like things that make us feel safe and like we understand the,. Perhaps because there is so much choice now, it’s safer to go with the route we know, which is why it can be seen as scary if someone takes a path you haven’t considered. Anything can be scary at first if you haven’t experienced it, or know someone who has. Plus, I suppose as a society we aren’t used to women having lots of choice – so we’re still getting used to women having agency to make varied and different decisions.

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The dresses in the show are amazing, outrageous and difficult to move in. They are real dresses that have been worn for weddings or were bought to be worn at a wedding. A normal bridal outfit is very performative. It really is a costume in a performance when you think about it! What’s interesting is that you can look at hundreds of bridal dresses and they don’t look very different from one another. On this specific day society expects a woman to be at her peak in a very particular way. When seeing this, you question whether the scope of what womanhood is supposed to be is still incredibly narrow. What are we emulating and why? If we are now becoming more open to different ideas about womanhood, why isn’t there much movement in this particular aspect?

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What wedding traditions would you get rid of?

Anything that seems like you are doing it because you feel you have to. Oh and the obey bit. Absolutely not cool.

Why is there so much pressure to get married? I’m 33, unmarried (never been interested in getting married), society makes me feel that it is something i should be doing and lush friends often ask “so when are you getting married”…Spoiler alert: probably NEVER….

It still feels like the pinnacle of women’s achievement is marriage. I think sometimes as a society we can still find it difficult to see a woman as having value on her own, not just existing as an extension of her husband/partner. But I also feel that when those questions come they often aren’t ill-meaning – they’re habit. We’re just taught that that is what we are aiming for as women.

At the end of many fairy-tales and movies you find true love and… well, that’s usually the end! We’re able to question so many more of the things that are expected of us now, to have children, to not have children e.t.c. but it is still against the social narrative to choose a different path. I always think that it’s not all that long since we got the vote and we’re still arguing about whether women should have rights, choices, agency…the list goes on. It takes a long time for attitudes to change. Hopefully the question one day will just be, ‘what do you want to do?’

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Previous shows/projects you want to tell me about?

Our last show This Really is Too Much won the Stockholm Fringe Festival GRAND PRIX, the Swedish Festival’s top award and was part of the prestigious Underbelly Untapped award for innovative new writing at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe.

It combined dancing with dark comedy to delve into a world of farcical stereotypes and preposterous power struggles, wrestling with gender, identity and social convention. This Really Is Too Much was an outlandish and wildly entertaining medley of absurd political speeches, talent contests and box ticking.

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Highlight for 2019 for Gracefool Collective?

Being one of the top 9 moments on the BBC’s Dance Passion Day!

What does it mean to be a feminist in 2019?

Intersectionality and Listening.

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What’s next for Gracefool collective?

Due to our collaborate ethos and non-hierarchical structure, ideas don’t develop fully until we’re first in the studio for a new work, so… we’ve no idea! It will probably become a work that deals with what we are concerned about now.

At the moment we are thinking about how Brexit impacts upon this as internationals working professionally. We’re dealing with loss, grief, trying to find a sense of belonging and whether or not to have children. This work touches on ideas of impending doom and the apocalypse. We’d love to explore this existential crisis further!

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Wow…..I want to join Gracefool Collective….love what their about and the energy is palpable. I love creative folks with real purpose …

So are you going to join me and come and see ‘This Is Not A Wedding ‘ at Arts Centre Washington, Sunderland on 3rd October? You can still get your tickets HERE!

An interview with poet Mona Arshi: law, Masala Festival 19, & making sense of the world one poem at a time…

I had the absolute pleasure of being invited along to pretty much all of Gem Arts Masala Festival 2019. Their Bengal tiger certainly strutted across the #NorthEast with seven days of epic #MasalaFestival – This award winning, multi venue festival has been running for several years and has been growing each time. 2019 was certainly their biggest year not only in terms of an ah-mazing programme but also for huge audiences and sell out events. The festival had an incredible line up of the finest South Asian Arts and Culture; screenings, theatre, music, yoga on the beach, Bollywood dancing, crafts, spoken word, poetry and free family fun!

Attending a (nearly) full festival like #Masalafestival as The Culture Vulture is just brilliant;  I get to go and experience lots of things – some of them I might not have managed to swing by unless specifically invited. With the greatest will in the world, as The Culture Vulture, I can’t get to every single thing that I’d like to see and of course, I do miss out on loads. I have to sleep and eat after all. Being invited to everything for Masala Festival and kindly given free tickets meant that I experienced events and things that I really loved (Some I would have probably missed out on) and honestly, feel more enriched from doing so…..

One such event was GemArts Masala Festival: Luck & Hope – an evening of poetry with the endlessly talented poets; Mona Arshi & Imtiaz Dharker on Tuesday 16th July at Culture Lab in Newcastle University. I love poetry, I’m a huge reader of it – but I seek it out largely in books and online in places like Button Poetry. I don’t get to enough poetry events though….. its one of those things that I’m always like I *must* get to more and then never quite get round to it.

The style of poetry I like is usually very real, quite dark, sometimes has some humour but always very contemporary and makes me think. I like it because it shines a light on other ways of viewing and exploring things and topics; I love increasing my insights and perspectives of the world. Poetry really helps me tap into someone else’s experiences and in  a world, where as an introvert I’m sometimes trapped in my own head, I really jump at these moments.

Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharker are two of the best poets writing today whose poetry explores the nuances of luck, grief and hope within our often violent and unsettling contemporary world. When I chatted to folks and told them I was going to see them at Luck & Hope as part of Masala Festival…. Both names in the North east poetry community hold huge excitement and respect, so it’s not really a surprise that the event sold out.

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Mona & Imtiaz during Luck & Hope at Gem Arts Masala festival 19

Mona Arshi (the subject of this blog) worked as a Human rights lawyer at Liberty before she started writing poetry. In 2015 she won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. At the centre of her latest book, Dear Big Gods is an overarching commitment to hope.

I asked Vikas Kumar MBE, GemArts Director if I could interview Mona and I was thrilled when she agreed. I was extremely touched and inspired by Mona’s readings – especially the focus and sharing of her own personal grief of the loss of her brother, her use of writing as a way of exploring, expressing and working through her experiences and, of course, the career change from being a lawyer into the creative sector. I really honed on her discussion during the audience question time, as she reflected that she went into the legal profession as a “proper job” to fulfil a melting pot of societal, parental and personal expectations before eventually taking the jump…… I felt so connected to that moment that I could have jumped up and announced “I did that too!”

An interview with Mona Arshi by The Culture Vulture

So, HI Mona! I think I will start with an obvious question and one you covered during the Luck & Hope event, but one I want to share with my readers….When and why did you start writing poetry?

About ten years ago…I have always read poetry since I was very young, but I became a heavy user of the stuff when I got pregnant with my twins and I had a career break from law; I had more time to read. I started reading more widely, contemporary poets, women (we were offered NO female poets at school), so it was refreshing and wonderful to see work being written by women of colour people like Imtiaz Dharker, Moniza Alvi, Sujata Bhatt etc…

CV- How interesting – I went to an all girls’ school and we studied a few female poets  – I saw myself as a tortured soul as a teenager, so used to love to write about it. I was VERY into women writers as a teen and hyper aware of them…

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When did you decide to pursue poetry as a career path?

I think being a poet is not something I set out to do. Who does really? I think poetry finds you rather than the other way around; it’s such a strange thing to do, to make poems and I think most people if they thought long and hard about it would realize it was a really strange and precarious enterprise and wouldn’t do it.

It’s more of a devotion than a career to be honest; in order to pursue the task of making poems you have to make a lot of compromises and be quite bloody minded and determined but when you are knee deep in the making of a poem and it’s all going well there is nothing like it; the freshness, the surprise, the encounter with language and trying to nail down an image and the other ingredient that particle that arrives like magic in a poem.

CV – I think a lot of what you said above is equally transferable across a variety of creative industries and we are taught there is no “money” in the arts sector. For the determined and resourceful – I believe there are opportunities and magic to be had everywhere.

How did you first get published?

I was first published I think…after my poem ‘Hummingbird’ won a competition for the inaugural MAGMA competition. It was quite lovely and unexpected. The poem won first prize; no one had ever heard of me of course and I then had to read the poem at the Prize Event. It was the first time I had ever read a poem on stage, I remember reading it really badly; too fast with my knees shaking.

What inspires you to write?

That’s a difficult question for any writer. I don’t think I can say there’s something specific that ignites a poem…I think you can make poem about almost anything. I think it’s more to do the quality of attention you give to a thing or an experience as a poet. Most writers are curious people but poets can and do get up close and personal to the thing their examining, we turn the stones over and see what’s lurking there, we might probe and stay longer with an experience, that’s what it feels like for me in any case.

You’re read from “Dear Big Gods” at Luck & Hope- it was wonderful.  Can you tell me a bit about that collection of poems?

Dear Big Gods is my second collection and I think of it as a sister book to Small Hands. ‘Small Hands’ was written right in the middle of a traumatic event; a death of a brother and the heart centre of the book contains poems around that experience. But DBG is written with distance but the experience is still being examined and aftershocks felt.

In some ways DBG is a post-event book; it’s me looking at the grief-terrain and taking stock. I think the book looks at other themes too, the garden is a character in the books, there are small things like insects and flowers which arrive like fugitive guests in the soil of the book, I am having conversations with them too.

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Why do you think so many people love and connect with your poetry?

Gosh I hope they do! I think successful poems (or poems that I think are successful) are very good at accessing and ambushing your senses and your heart; I think a lyric poet is very good at this, so you feel very familiar in a poem as well as feeling as if you’ve heard the language fresh for the first time, so in a way, both familiar and foreign. Poems are and need to be active creatures and there is a role that the reader has in participating in the poem in the reading of it. Good poems should allow this space for the reader.

CV- Well I certainly felt connected with your work – you convey very human experiences and emotions.

How did you come to get involved in this year’s GemArts Masala Festival?

Well I think there was some talk of me doing Masala Festival, a few years ago and the dates didn’t work out. But I so wanted to do it as I’d heard what a rich festival it is and have also heard incredible things about Newcastle University so it was wonderful to be asked to be involved in 2019.

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How does the troubling contemporary world, in the present, affect your writing?

This is a difficult question but an important one. What is the role of Poetry (and art for that matter) when we risk losing so much in our liberal democracies? Should we insist on making art that is overtly political? Some artists do this very successfully of course and we need to remember that poets historically have always had a role to play in saying the unsayable in the most authoritarian regimes.

Ted Hughes said of the Eastern European poets that they were some of the most ‘Wide awake’ poets writing. I think that’s an important phrase, that poetry has to be alive and awake to the times we live in, the meat of the language to work and of course, it has to engage the wider world or what’s the point? There are many ways of doing this, subtle and overt but mostly through the language itself. We should also remember that poetry somehow always manages to survive and flourish in the most difficult of conditions.

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What would you say to someone who thinks an evening of poetry or poetry in general isn’t for them?

I think people who say this should try it before they make up their mind. The most interesting work currently being written is by poets. Poets are imagineers; it’s a very alive creaturely thing a poem and it has a different sort of vitality when you hear poetry live.

Why? Because it wakes up our ears!

So much of what we do in our daily lives is about privileging our senses, that if you sit and listen carefully and tune ourselves into language that hits our ear it’s a very different experience.

My first degree is in law, I studied at Newcastle University Law School and you were a Human Rights lawyer – what was the trigger from legal practice into poetry?

Studying law and being a lawyer equips you for many things but one of those things is not writing poetry! Having said that lawyers and poets are careful and attentive with text. I think it’s helped sharpen my editing skills. I have always read widely including poetry and I think fundamentally like for all writing that is the key to me being able to write. I guess I wanted to write, when I actually had time to write, so I took a career break when my twins were born and did a masters in poetry which opened up a huge new world.

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Advice to an aspiring poet or writer?  Or, advice to someone who is already writing but wants to grow further?

Read widely. Read the canon of course, but also read translation, read out of your comfort zone, and keep on reading some more.

CV – I really don’t read enough – I need to read more.

Can you share with us any other poets that you admire?

So many, that I can’t name. I am a really eclectic reader. I have just finished re-reading Shivanee Ramlochans collection ‘Everyone Knows I am a Haunting’. I  think she’s pulled off something interesting in that book. I am currently reading and loving Maggie Nelson’s strange and wonderful prose/Poetry. If I lose my foothold somehow in this strange ephemeral art there are some go-to poets that always bring me back and they are Keats, Mimi Khalvati, Paul Celan and Sylvia Plath.

CV – I am also the biggest Sylvia Plath fan and often go back to her writing when I need some grounding or in a fug.

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You can find out more about Mona and how to get your hands on her work to read by visiting HERE!

Thank you to GemArts for inviting me along to Masala Festival and enabling this brilliant opportunity of interviewing Mona Arshi!

Artist interview with Naomi Edmondson – life survival techniques, mental health and positive vibes through guerilla street art!

Those of you who follow me on social media on my Culture Vulture Facebook will know I’m on a bit of a mental health mission (check out my Mental Health event in September!). It’s something that I’m extremely passionate about and as someone who has had significant mental health issues through-out their life, I’m determined to be an advocate, champion that there is life during and post mental health issues, celebrate creative expression as an outlet AND just taking some time out to look after number one (YOU!) every so often.

Mental Health is a topic that has been explored and tackled in many of my recent projects…. And is something that I am (alongside lots of artists) are using as a stimulus within current and future creative projects. I want to be part of the positive change and also to smash the perception of exactly WHAT mental health is and WHO “suffers” from it.

I recently worked on a brilliant festival called Make & Mend Festival; this festival focuses on and celebrates the power of craft, colour and creativity. It doesn’t just imply that being creative and engaging in creative happenings might be good for mind, body and soul – it all out, uses this as its core value to attendees. And being there on the day, doing their live social media, meant that I was able to enjoy the atmosphere and absorb the festival vibe and it just filled my soul with joy. You could literally feel people’s passion, happiness and creativity over flowing through-out the festival site. Perfect and more events like this please!

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

As part of Make & Mend Festival, I had the opportunity to engage with lots of artists, makers, artisans, creatives, motivational speakers, wellbeing practitioners and everything in between. Lots of them I knew already, some only through my constant social media stalking and fan girling so it was a pleasure to meet and chat in “real life” and there were lots of new folks to meet….. it blows my mind how much talent and lushness there is in the North East and that with the greatest will in the world, you just can’t know about them all. But events like that festival are all about creative discovery and I get a real buzz from that.

An artist/creative that I’ve fan girled for some time is Naomi Edmondson. Those who know me, know I’m in love with street art – I love bold, creative designs in urban areas. I’m of the mind-set that it’s an art form that I’d like to see more of and it’s an expression of “reclaiming” space and communicating with the rest of the world. Good street art stops you in your tracks and often makes you smile. Naomi’s work makes me smile and champions positive affirmations (not in the cheesy way – I can’t DEAL with a cheesy motivational quote), but actual real shit….. stuff that sometimes our brains just need to see as a pick me up, a metaphorical and colourful high five and a reminder that when things are crap, you’ve still absolutely got this.

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Naomi Edmondson in front of one of her murals.

So of course, I was delighted when I found out, that Naomi had been commissioned to produce some pieces of work to display across Make & Mend Festival grounds to be enjoyed. In fact, I think I did a little scream and said “THE Naomi Edmondson!?” …. I love it when fate just brings things together. So of course, when the opportunity arose to interview a Make & Mend artist as Culture Vulture, I was ALLLLL over Naomi like the creepy fangirl I can be…. “hi hi hi, I love you, I follow you on Instagram and I think you’re brilliant!”.

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Before I launch into my interview with Naomi, I suggest checking out her work to get a sense of it all. It’s mint. Naomi has turned the Instagram and advertising negativity on its head… instead of a social media feed with things that will make you feel inadequate or an advert in the street, that will remind you of all the things you should be doing to be a good adult….her work, is the antithesis of this – it’s like shit hot, positivity street art that shares some basic survival techniques in life.

So you get the sense that I LOVE her work, love the positive mental health theme running through out it and I want to shout loud and proud about Naomi to you all……. We need more of it in our lives and when I have an office, I want Naomi’s work within in.

So over to Naomi…

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Hi Naomi, absolute pleasure to talk to you and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat….so tell my readers who you are?

I’m Naomi Edmondson and I’m an artist with a street art project called Survival Techniques; it aims to promote hope and optimism and bring a little light to people having a dark day.

4 years ago, after a period of feeling very low, I wrote a list to remind me what to do when I was feeling bad: things that always made me feel a bit better. They were always super simple things like ‘Talk to someone, anyone, about anything’ which came from me chatting to the guy in my local shop for a few minutes. I realised that I would leave the shop feeling much more a part of the world again.

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After finding that friends found similar ‘Survival Techniques’ worked for them, I began to think about ways of sharing the list, and after seeing a local street artist at work in East London, decided that the street would be the best, most democratic place to share them.

The first wall I painted was “Hide Less Chat More” – words from the friend I’d first shared my list of Survival Techniques with. There are now many paintings spread across the UK and Japan.

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How did it all start….tell me about your journey into the creative world?

In my early twenties I was a professional freestyle skier, but after a string of season ending injuries, I decided to move back to the UK. I had a quarter-life crisis and eventually decided to study a 1 year Art & Design foundation course in London. I’d always enjoyed Art at school, but hadn’t really considered it for work. I completely loved my first course and went on to study BA Graphic & Media Design. I started working as a graphic designer for a book publisher and have been working on a freelance, part-time basis for that same publisher up until very recently, as I simultaneously worked on building the Survival Techniques project.

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You have a signature style….I love the bold typography choices…can you tell me the inspiration of your style?

I’ve always loved typography, and the reason I studied for my degree at London College of Communication was because they had a huge letterpress studio, full of drawers and drawers of letters. In particular I like dynamic, bold typography. It took me a while to get to the Survival Techniques style as I wanted to find that balance between colourful and eye-catching, whilst also putting the message first and foremost.

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How do you come up with the phrases for your Survival Techniques work?

When I first started the project I asked my friends and family to send me their Survival Techniques in any form. I then created phrases from what they told me, or edited down their words into the size and tone that I wanted. I am always collecting phrases; whenever I hold an exhibition there is a submissions box that people can post their Survival Techniques into, and I have always had a form on my website for the same thing.

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So for those who follow you on Insta, like this creepy fan girl right here, know you’ve been in Japan super recently with your work – so me about it?

This past year I’ve been out to Japan several times and have had 2 solo exhibitions in Tokyo. The first exhibition was in summer 2018 at UltraSuperNew Gallery during an intense heatwave. I gave a talk about my work and in partnership with the gallery we hosted a charity auction of 3 pieces of work in aid of the West Japan disaster that happened whilst I was there. The exhibition led onto a commission for the gallery to paint the shutter at the entrance to the building, and it also led onto my work moving across Tokyo in autumn for another solo exhibition to Park Gallery. I also collaborated with Park Gallery to run workshops for a group of adults and children, and I painted the front of the gallery in Spring 2019; I painted Open Your Doors, which are words that a 14-year old boy posted into the submissions box at my first exhibition at UltraSuperNew.

It feels incredible to be able to make work there, and be involved in the culture in a way I would never have expected and I feel so grateful for the experience and opportunities.

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People can buy your work….we all need more of your Survival Techniques in our life. Where do you tend to sell your work – where can people get them from?

Initially for print sales it was purely through my own online shop, which I still have and sell through, but I also now sell via galleries and dedicated print shops, in particular Atom Gallery and PrintClubLondon.

Paintings tend to sell via exhibitions and occasionally Instagram.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How do you get approached for commissions?

Often commissions will come after I talk about Survival Techniques at an event; I think it’s the best way for people to understand the journey and reasoning of the project. Otherwise, having my work out on the street means that lots of people see it and then recognise other paintings. I think there is something immediately engaging about seeing work physically. To see work online or in print is always interesting and inspiring, but if people see my work in real life, out on the street somewhere, I think it is even easier to engage with.

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I find your work bold and yet quietly reflective – the colours enable the message to permeate whilst it triggers reflective thoughts about why i don’t necessarily feel that way in that moment and ignites a self determination to strive to feel that way. Was that intention?

Thank you and yes. I always try to find a balance between the colours being bright and hopeful, whilst also not shouting or being too commanding. I don’t have a scientific approach other than I always use a limited colour palette. I just work on it until it feels right, and like the colours together have the same feeling as what I want to say.

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What do you want people to feel and think when they see your work?

I hope that the messages will be gentle reminders of things you can do, or ways to look at a situation when you’re feeling low. It could be something you can do that same day or moment, or something that perhaps sticks on your mind and that you can call upon at a later date. I also hope that the messages will make people realise that everyone is struggling at different times and that they aren’t alone.

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Again through my stalking, I’ve discovered you were part of the World Book Day Teen campaign….how that that happen and how did you get involved?

I gave a talk about my work at an event in South-East London, where I have a lot of paintings. The ladies that run the studio that head up all of the design for World Book Day were there, started following my work, and a year later they got in touch to see if I’d be interested in collaborating. Reading has always been very important to me and I think World Book Day is such a brilliant event and charity, so it was a very easy decision to say yes.

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Some of your pieces have a distinctively positive feminist vibe – what does being a feminist mean to? Would you class yourself as a feminist?

I would definitely class myself as a feminist because I want to be treated equally to men. The inner levels of ourselves that the patriarchy reaches can be terrifying to discover sometimes. I think there can be no shortage of voices that give strength to women.

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Last year, you placed pieces “I am Here” – “I am a Woman” around London….. what did you want to achieve from that project?

I wanted to celebrate International Women’s Day in a way that felt relevant to my work and how I feel. I took those two paintings to locations around London that were or are key to women’s history and rights, for example meeting places for the suffragettes. I wrote the words I Am A Women and I Am Here as a way of unapologetically celebrating and claiming the place of those women, and of my own space in the city today.

You painted several commissions for Make & Mend Festival this year – I had the privilege of seeing them on site during the festival and they were just perfect additions. For those who didn’t attend, can you tell them a bit about your commissions.

I’ve created 5 paintings on wooden boards that were spread around the festival site. The words are Survival Techniques that relate directly to the ethos and vibe of Make & Mend.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How did you come to get involved in this year’s festival?

Rachel, one of the organisers of the festival, got in touch about a collaboration and working together. I could immediately see so much common ground in what we were both doing and it was the perfect event for me to get involved with.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

Make & Mend Festival is all about giving yourself space to be creative and investing into your mental health through the power of craft and well-being focused activities – that seems to blend and connect well with your ethos at Survival Techniques. Why do you think creative opportunities and events are important for positive mental health?

I think we all need to be creative in one way or another. Finding that way is difficult nowadays as a lot of people don’t have that opportunity in their jobs. To be making things seems to be so important to what it means to be human. I run workshops where people can create their own Survival Techniques artwork and every time people are amazed at how relaxing it is to sit down and be creating something. One friend helping me to paint a mural and she said she nearly reached nirvana.

To go to an event that is focused on creativity is such a wonderful and important thing that you can do for yourself, and the benefits last way beyond the event itself.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How does your practice and painting these positive affirmations influence your own mental health?

Painting each phrase onto a wall cements it into my mind and means it really stays with me. I still sometimes forget things, and when I think a little more in a situation and remember a certain painting I’ve done, for example ‘You Can Rest’; it helps me to stop dodging doing the good thing for myself, and just do it.

The actual physical act of painting is so calming and I feel lucky to be able to do it often.

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I’m an avid champion of the Northern Arts scene and I ask all artists from the South this question : Do you think there is a difference between the North & South Art scene?

I’m sorry to say I don’t know much about the North Art scene. I live in London, and up until recently all of my work has been based there, growing on the exposure and contacts I have in my local area until eventually I’m now creating work all across the city. I was so delighted to make work that was going to be outside of London as this is something I’ve always wanted to do.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

Do you come up North much?

Not as much as I’d like to. I really want to see the Keith Haring exhibition at Tate Liverpool, so hope to make a trip there soon. I spent New Year in the Lake District which was even more beautiful than I’d imagined. My brother and his family live in Scotland so I will visit them a couple of times a year, but I don’t currently have many other connections in the north at the moment.

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Well Naomi my dear, the North East is calling out for you to properly visit and if you need a tour guide….this gal is the one to ask!

Naomi’s work really is fantastic and I suggest that you follow her on Insta for some colour and positivity in your life!

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Calling all rebels this International Women’s Day!?

After Eurovision (which is like my own personal Christmas), there is only one annual celebration that gets me super excited….. and that’s International Women’s Day. An opportunity to toast some of my favourite #lasses, recognise achievement and those who have supported the journey towards equality.

And this year, I’m throwing a proper party with Thought Foundation & Durham Distillery called Rebel Disco – I’ve wanted to throw a party for years and with The Culture Vulture thriving and vibing with so many lush megababes in my network, it seemed like the perfect time. Rebel Disco is an opportunity to get glittered up (we’ve got an eco- glitter bar!), dance to an amazing female DJ who is going to DJ some diva cracker tunes with projection, creative shenanigans for you to have a go at, food on offer, “tit-tails” and more. It’s this coming Friday and tickets are £12… why not join me, bring your rebel tribe and disco tits and get ready a corker of a party in the name of International Women’s Day….

Tickets are £12 and available from HERE.

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IWD is celebrated on 8th March annually and is a focal point in the movement for women’s rights. After the Socialist Party of America organised a Women’s Day on February 28, 1909 in New York, the 1910 International Socialist Woman’s Conference suggested a Women’s Day be held annually. After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.

Today, International Women’s Day is an International day of recognition; in some countries it’s celebrated as a day that championing people who identify as female and womanhood, in others it’s a day of protest and sadly, still in many places it’s ignored.

International Women’s Day is sometimes perceived as quite contentious or a day of “feminism”….. but I think it’s a beautiful celebratory day and at the heart of it, is about recognising the history of women and suffrage alongside championing the achievements of female identifying wonderful humans and an opportunity to have a discussion about the issues that exist in the present.

This year’s theme is right up my street too…. Totally recognising that IWD is not Men verses Women (I don’t believe in two genders for the record); it’s about celebrating wonderful people and striving for equality. This year’s campaign theme is #BalanceforBetter – focusing on forging a more gender-balanced world and trying to secure equality. I’m totally against any form of bias including preferential treatment (quotas on a business board – please! I either am the right candidate or I’m not – I don’t want my place to tick a box.).

So really excited for this year’s IWD and Rebel Disco; this party is going to be mega and it’s all about celebrating women and dancing the night away whilst enjoying “tit” tails made with Durham Gin (one of my FAVE gins by the way). I bet you’re wondering what a “tit tail’ is.. good question….basically we’ve taken the “cock” out of cocktail and swapped it for “tit” and then devised a LUSH Durham Distillery gin cocktail! Simple as that!

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However, I’m not the only one doing something MINT for this year’s International Women’s Day – actually this year feels like a bit of a festival of IWD happenings. So I thought this was a good opportunity to do some Culture Vulture IWD suggestions and recommendations for events I think you should be aware of and checking out!

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Film Screening: Kusama: Infinity (12A)

Gosforth Civic Theatre, Tuesday 5 March, 7.30pm

Insightful documentary about #kween of polka dots Yayoi Kusama, and her journey against the odds to become an internationally renowned brilliant artist. Yayoi is an absolute ray of light in the arts world.

Tickets are £5 and available from HERE!

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Hear My Voice: A Working Woman’s Fight For The Vote

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Thursday 7 March, 6.30pm

Mark, IWD with Meridith Towne; she will lead you on a march through history to discover the determined women who sparked “The Cause” through to the Edwardian militants who refused to take “no” for an answer. This is a brilliant lively and informative talk about women who were inspired to go forth with “Deeds not Words”. I’ve seen Meridith many times before – and she’s excellent!

Tickets are £5 and available from HERE!

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Stupid

Northern Stage, Thursday 7 March, 8pm

A “not-just-me-then” tale of one woman figuring life out. We meet Stupid on her first day as a supply teacher and follow her quest to piece herself together, one school (and life) lesson at a time. New writing by an extraordinary megababe – a hilariously honest story about adulthood and whether it will ever really make sense?

I’ve seen the show and it was fantastic – written by Sian Armstrong and directed by Anna Ryder; two of my favourite humans.

Tickets are £10 and available from HERE!

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Period Positivity Event

Newcastle City Library/Grey’s Monument, Friday 8 March, 10am

This event is all about raising awareness surrounding period poverty and promoting period positivity. Starting at Newcastle City Library, you will have the opportunity to make red pompoms before taking them to Grey’s Monument to make it red. There will also be a flash-mob choir performing.

You will also be able to drop by and donate to Red Box and Streetwise.

Tickets are free – but you can register your interest HERE!

International Women’s Day Story Time

Seven Stories The National Centre for Children’s Books, Friday 8 March, 10.30am, 1pm & 3.30pm

Awesome stories about inspirational super-women shared all day in celebration of International Women’s Day. Dress up as your favourite independent woman and tag us in on Instagram #IWD2019.

Storytime is free with general Seven Stories admission.

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International Women’s Day at City Space with Sister Shack

City Space, Sunderland University, Friday 8 March, 11am-7pm

Sister Shack will be showcasing stalls, activity and workshops with a creative, entrepreneurial and artistic background. This event will have a focus on the wellbeing of women by the way of specialist stalls, speakers, workshops and performers.

Entry is free and no need for tickets – but visit the website to find out more about the schedule of activity.

Sister Shack is also running an event the next day at Tyne Bank Brewery, so if you can’t make the Sunderland event – check out the Newcastle one!

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Reclaim The Frame presents The Kindergarten Teacher

Tyneside Cinema, Sunday 10 March, 3pm

This screening is part of the fantastic Birds’ Eye View’s Reclaim The Frame project; a mission to bring ever greater audiences to films by women, to build a more balanced film future.

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Lisa Spinelli, a kindergarten teacher and poet fed up with her career, her oblivious husband and teenage kids who largely ignore her. When she discovers that a five-year-old in her class may be a poetic prodigy, Lisa becomes fascinated and tries to protect him from neglectful parents.

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There will be a post screening panel discussion hosted by Mia Bays who runs Birds’ Eye View, the charitable pathfinder for films by women and network for those who make, show, release and watch them. She is an Oscar-winning producer of documentaries and fiction.

Tickets are £7.25-£10.75 and available HERE.

Tyneside Cinema are running a whole season of International Women’s Day inspired films.

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Newcastle Fuck Up Night (in collaboration with Women of Tyneside)

Ampersand Inventions CIC, 39 Pilgrim Street, Tuesday 12 March, 7pm

An evening of all-female line up of artists, writers, business people and entrepreneurs who are set to tell their stories – this evening is all about celebrating the mistakes, the “whoops”, the blind faith moments, the moment it all went tits up – yep the fuck ups…. These moments are learning opportunities and often the making of us – this event celebrates and shares them.

Tickets are free but pre-bookable – available HERE.

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Other lush events coming up to note:

Women of Tyneside Festival

Across Newcastle & Gateshead, March – June

I was lucky to catch up with one of the project co-ordinators Gemma Ashby to find out about the festival and it sounds fantastic. A wide programme of collaborative events and TWAM led events celebrating women in Tyneside and exploring the representation of women in Museum collections.

Festival information and programme of events can be found HERE.

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Women are Mint Festival

Cobalt Studios, 10-12 May

Women Are Mint Festival is a three day event showcasing the best of local female talent including Culture Vulture megababes Becca James, The Cornshed Sisters, Ladies of Midnight Blue and Lady Annabella. Women are absolutely MINT, but we already knew that.

Festival information and tickets can be found HERE.

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And if you can’t wait to see Lady Annabella…well guess what? She’s DJing Rebel Disco, so come and sample a tit-tail with me on Friday and get your Rebel Disco tickets!

I have a feeling I’m going to be raising a lot of glasses full of gin across the week at all these IWD events, toasting lots of megababes….

That’s all for now Culture Vultures! xx

Events and Happenings to look forward to across the North East for 2019

So I’ve been plotting and planning this blog post for some time – but you know what it’s like over the festive period…..always more cheese to eat, more gin to drink, another cat to stroke…..

Lots of you send me messages via my various social media channels asking for my recommendations of things to do, happenings, events etc – so I thought I’d write a blog on the things that I’m excited and looking forward to in 2019. There are so many amazing events, exhibitions, performances, happenings, things to see, do, visit, coming up, that it’s impossible to include them all but these are the ones that give me excited butterflies……

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New Year New Artists – Thursday 17 January – Sunday 20 January

If like me New Year and January is all about trying and seeking out new things and you’re feeling musically experimental after BBC3 Radios New Music week across the first week of January, then THIS is for you. I get SO stuck in a music rut through-out the year – but I love gigs, discovering new bands, singers and types of music that day to day, I’d probably not be open to.

New Year New Artists at Sage Gateshead, in association with my pals at NARC Magazine, brings together stars of the future; a weekend full of new music, different genres and artists of tomorrow. You can say you saw them here first!

The programme this year is amazing but if I had to pick a Culture Vulture recommendation it would be to go to Saturday 19 January – BBC Introducing in the North East Presents. This evening will be filled with exciting emerging artists, unsigned, undiscovered and under the radar music across the UK. The line-up includes the AMAZING Beth Macari, who if you are a lover of the regional gig and live music scene, you’ll have seen and fallen in love with her, like I have. She is certainly one to watch!

Ticket/Entrance Cost: Various prices per gig/festival pass (and some are free!)

How to Book: Sage Gateshead Website

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Gateshead Silent Film Festival – Friday 25 January, 8pm & 26 Saturday January, 8pm

This is now in its third year at St Mary’s Heritage Centre and is run by the incredibly talented creative Side By Side Arts.  If you haven’t been to St Mary’s Heritage Centre – then please you MUST go and this is your perfect excuse! It’s one of my favourite venues for an event; think converted Church, atmosphere, bit gothic and PERFECT for a silent film fest!

Side By Side Arts present two nights of silent films accompanied by live piano music, taking you back to 1920s where film making was pure gold, without special effects. Night one is ‘Horror night’ with a screening of The Phantom of the Opera, a 1925 silent horror classic, about an enigmatic masked presence. Night two is ‘Comedy night’ with a screening of Girl Shy, a silent comedy classic about ‘Poor Boy’ heading to the city to sell his romantic anthology and stumbles into a romance of his own! Night two is also being brought to life with compare and Rusty’s legend Miss Dixie Swallows bringing some class and sass to the proceedings. New for this year, is the addition of Scream for Pizza serving up their lush pizza and of course, there is a pay bar and each night ends up with dancing (or in my case twirling) to 1920s-40s music.

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £10 per night (each booked separately)

How to book: Gateshead Council Box Office Website – Horror Night / Comedy Night

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Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing – Friday 1 February – Monday 6 May

In February 2019, to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, 144 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection will go on display in 12 simultaneous exhibitions across the UK including Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens! Sunderland has got it going on at the moment and we are SO lucky to have this on our door step – it’s a MUST visit!

1st Feb marks the opening weekend of Leonardo da Vinci, A Life in Drawing – and if like me, you’re all about being there first, then it’s all about the opening weekend! The exhibition is your rare opportunity to see the extraordinary drawings of Leonardo da Vinci from the Queen’s Collection. The drawings on selected for display reflect the full range of Leonardo’s interests and his innovation – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany.

Keep an eye on Sunderland Culture social media and website over the coming weeks for a wide ranging programme of supporting events and activities for families and adults through-out the exhibition period.

 

Even though the exhibition doesn’t open until 1st Feb – tickets are on sale now and I do recommend pre-booking yours to avoid disappointment.

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £2.50 per person & Under 16s free (but ticket still needed)

How to Book: Visit the Sunderland Culture Leonardo website page.

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Sunderland Comedy Project- Thursday 7 February, 7.30pm

With Jesterval Comedy Festival, South Tyneside Comedy Festival, Arts Centre Washington comedy programme and of course, The Stand Comedy Club, I think we do pretty well for comedy. I love attending comedy shows and seeing touring comedians. However, I’ve just found out about The Sunderland Comedy Project and their monthly shows with regional comedians at the lush Sunderland venue, The Peacock. This is a MUST for this Culture Vulture in 2019….

The Sunderland Comedy Project has just announced their February show and line-up; I’m buzzing that Jesterval fave (and organiser) Dave Haddingham is comparing for the evening. Now, I’ve seen Dave many times before and I’ve go to this, just for him alone – he’s hilarious! Other acts announced so far are Karen Bayley and Vince Atta with more to come. This sounds like a great night to discover some new comedy; I will be cackling in the back!

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £10 per-booking or £12.50 on the door.

How to Book: Visit the Jokepit online box office.

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Screenage Kicks: True Romance- Thursday 14 February, 7pm

After a year-long absence, which left a hole in my social life heart, Screenage Kicks is back with a vengeance in 2019! Now, if you haven’t heard of Screenage Kicks – well they are a MUST for you in 2019. Screenage Kicks creates bespoke immersive pop up cinema events celebrating absolute cult cinema classics in truly unique locations. They have to be experienced to be believed – but think live music, character performance, beautifully themed venue decorations and special touches inspired by the films themselves.

So, here they are back for 2019, returning with their first ever (Anti) Valentines special, screening one of their (and mine!) favourite cult classics, Tony Scott’s beloved ‘True Romance’. Presented in full Screenage action packed glory, within the unique and romantic surrounds of a space never yet used by Screenage Kicks; The Assembly Rooms is set to be transformed into The Beverley Ambassador.

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £22 or £39.60 for a couples ticket (Please note – this is NOT a couples event – everyone and anyone is welcome!)

How to Book: Visit the Seetickets Screenage box office.

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The Art of Taxidermy: Artist Talk- Saturday 2 March, 11am

With Taxidermy and Entomology having a big revival and growing in popularity – are you feeling a bit curious? Have you thought about having a go but a bit unsure? I certainly have! Moreover, I have so many questions! Moth Studios are the leading Taxidermy and Entomology studio in the region, hosting a wide range of workshops in their own studio and all their items are responsibly and reputably sourced – for one special morning, Moth Studio is hosting a talk at St Mary’s Heritage Centre Gateshead (what a PERFECT venue for it!?).

In this artist talk and demonstration with Moth Studios, they will share their visionary way of re-introducing Taxidermy, Natural History and Entomology into contemporary lifestyle, exploring techniques they use, hints and tips for your own pieces and how you can get involved in the practice.

The talk is such a unique opportunity to find out more and will close with a Q&A so you can truly satisfy your curiosity.

I really love an Artist talk!

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £6 per person

How to Book: Visit the Gateshead Council box office

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Where There’s Muck There’s Bras- Wednesday 13 March, 7.45pm

This beautiful show at The Northern Stage celebrates the ‘real’ Northern Powerhouse – the sung and unsung women of the North of England. Its politicians, entertainers, musicians, sportswomen, activists, writers, innovators and mould breakers – women who are often missing in the ‘standard’ Northern Powerhouse who (in my opinion) consist mostly of white men in suits. I mean how tragic was the line-up for the Business Conference during Great Exhibition of the North!?!?! I’ve felt more inspired by a smack in the face….

In this hilarious and thought provoking show, stand up poet and Radio 4 regular Kate Fox and actor Joey Holden champion #lasses such as Britain’s first astronaut Helen Sharman, the first female speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd and music hall star the inimitable Hylda Baker alongside some #lasses you may not have heard of, Liverpool’s Hilda James who introduced the front crawl to the UK, Lilian Bader, one of the first black women in the RAF and “Red Ellen” Wilkinson the MP who led the Jarrow March!

I heard AMAZING things about this show during its mini tour last year so I’m mega excited to see it myself! In addition to Northern Stage – it’s playing all over the North including Darlington, York, Halifax, Middlesbrough and many other venues – visit Kate Fox Facebook for full tour details.

Ticket/Entrance Cost: From £10 per person

How to book: Northern Stage Website – Where There’s Muck There’s Bras

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Curious Arts Fundraiser – Friday 16 March, 8pm

Curious Arts champions and develops LGBTQ arts, artists and audiences across the North East. Their work, events and yearly festival in July celebrates and explores Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Culture through the arts. Every event, I’ve attended has blown my mind – interesting, high energy, such a memorable experience and guaranteed that you leave curious for more. In short, I love everything they do. They haven’t announced their festival programme for July 2019 – but I can promise you, it will be amazing!

However, they have just announced their fundraiser evening at Alphabetti Theatre; this evening directly supports the Curious Festival 2019 programme. Last year was a BLAST, so you can expect a line-up packed full of talented performers, dance and drag artists with the proceedings most likely led by Mutha Tucka. I promise, you will laugh until your sides hurt, see performers from the region doing amazing things showcasing the unreal talent we have in the region and you’ll end the night dancing away in Alphabetti’s theatre bar.

And if like me, you’re curious for more or if you can’t make the fundraiser – they also have Northern  Stage is Curious: 2019 on 1 June, for a preview of what to expect from award-winning Curious Festival 2019;  an evening of comedy, theatre and performance from established and emerging Queer Northern talent.

Ticket/Entrance Cost for Fundraiser: £10

How to book: Via the Curious ticket website.

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The Bon Bons Cabaret: God Save the Queens – Thursday 28 March, 9pm

Bonnie and The Bonnettes and The House of Love are back with another one of their fun, feisty, entertaining and infamous Bon Bons Cabarets; God Save The Queens. Tonight they explore and celebrate what it takes, to be a Queen! Whether it’s Mariah Carey, or Mary Queen of Scots, these Queens have always got the job done. From a culturally shifting Christmas number one to running the entire country of Scotland, they inspire generations, they make their mark, their voices heard; they are true Queens. During the night, Bonnie and The Bonnettes explore what exactly makes a “Queen”? Are you born one? Do you transform into one? Do other people’s love and adoration make you become one?

Get ready for a night like no other at Alphabetti Theatre and remember to wear your crowns and tiaras!

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £7 (£5 concessions)

How to book: Via the Alphabetti Theatre website

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The Guilty Feminist- Saturday 4 May, 6.30pm

The Guilty Feminist podcast has become a comedy phenomenon with over 50 million downloads since it launched in late 2016 – it is pretty much my life Bible and small bit of sanity during periods of absolute insanity. I actually didn’t know this was even coming to Newcastle’s City Hall until I was tagged into a social media post and the lush ladies from Third Space Events sorted me a ticket to join their gang! I am so excited – I will be fangirling and whooping like a cracker!

Lush megababe – Comedian Deborah Frances-White and her guests discuss things which all twenty-first century feminists agree on – while confessing the insecurities, hypocrisies and fears which undermine those noble goals. For this special touring version of the show, Deborah will be joined by some of your favourite comedians, guests and musicians from the podcast for a celebration of how far we’ve come, and a conversation about what remains to be done.

Now in a world where “feminism” has become a bit of a (sadly) negative term…. I promise you this evening will have you giggling, thinking “oh my god – ME TOO” and walking away empowered. #LASSES

Ticket/Entrance Cost: £26.50 – £32

How to Book: Visit the Theatre Royal Website

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Elmer’s Great North Parade – Early August – November 2019

In 2016, did you (like me) fall in love with Snowdogs? I was a one woman advocate and superfan! LOVED IT! So I’m so excited that another mass Art participation event is planned for 2019, an even bigger set of feet will be parading through our region’s streets, parks and coastline – Elmer the Elephant’s ‘Great North Parade’, in support of St Oswald’s Children Hospice, is coming to town!

This beautiful art trail made up of individually designed sculptures based on the much loved Elmer character will stomp its way across the region for 10 weeks from August to October 2019.

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It will be similar to in concept to last time – expect Elmer’s across Gateshead, Sunderland, Newcastle, Northumberland & South Tyneside designed by local, regional and International Artists with one or two celebrities thrown in for good measure. You will be able to follow a paper trail map or an app on your phone in order to follow the trail alongside lots Elmer themed events across the whole region.

I am sure Elmer will absolute capture the hearts and minds of the region again – getting you all to be tourists in your own town. I am SO bliddy excited for this and it’s just fantastic that it benefits St Oswald’s Hospice; I was humbled recently, when I was invited for a tour of the hospice and hear about all the great work they do.

Keep an eye on the Facebook page for announcements or sign up to the mailing list.

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World Transplant Games 2019- Saturday 17 – Saturday 24 August 2019

If like me, you get borderline obsessed during the Olympics, then you’ll be super excited about a week long of live sporting events right here to the region. Held over seven days, the Summer World Transplant Games are held every two years in host cities around the world. I’m over the moon NewcastleGateshead have been chosen to host.

Summer 19 will see around 3000 visitors from 70 countries come to NewcastleGateshead to compete; competitors are aged from 4 to over 80 and will all have had lifesaving organ or tissue transplants. There will be events for living donors and donor families, as well as a number of social and cultural events for the public – alongside the obvious opportunity to attend the Games to watch at venues like Gateshead International Stadium. Sports will include archery, athletics, badminton, basketball, cycling, darts, football, golf, volleyball, petanque, squash, swimming, table tennis, ten-pin bowling and tennis.

Details about pricing and how to book are yet to reveal – follow the Facebook event page to keep in the loop!

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Well that was just a flavour of a few of the things I’m excited for across 2019….. quick shout outs also go to:

No28 – their themed quiz nights are amazing – I had a blast at last year’s Peep Show one!

MAPS Festival by Chalk – a creative and immersive weekend of art, music and play aimed at children under 8 and their grown-ups.

Lundgren Tours – they are yet to announce their tours for 2019 – but I’ve heard rumbling of Lake District and as I’m trying to get back to my outdoorsy best, I’m excited!

Tyneside Cinema – I’ve fallen back in love with the cinema again and one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to go to the cinema at least once every two weeks…. Tyneside always feature amazing films and host unique film events.

Low Fell Food Market – Everyone loves a food market and I especially love Spring/Summer ones in Saltwell Park and Gateshead (easier for me to roll home full). They are yet to announce dates – but they are coming!

Great Northumberland – After the MASSIVE success of last year’s Summer event season, it’s no surprise that I’ve heard rumours of this happening again! I really love Northumberland and the programme of events they put on so I’m eagerly awaiting more news and I will update you as I find out!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures!