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

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.

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

Project: WORTH – Lady Kitt, defacing bank notes,gender equality, championing brilliant women & crowdfunding!

So this is a first for my blog…..I’m revisiting an artist I’ve interviewed before…Lady Kitt. When I interviewed her last time it was the very beginning of getting to know her after fangirling from a far. Since then…we’ve met lots of times and I’ve seen her work, one of her performances and fallen in love with her even more. Officially one of my favourite humans.

You can read my last blog post here – find out all about Lady Kitt, her practice and of course Nasty Women North East.

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Now for this post – I’m going Lady Kitt project specific; I’m talking about LK’s project WORTH. And I will let LK tell you in her own words about the project but this post feels timely to me. At the heart of project WORTH is the (rational) human ideal of gender equality. It’s about championing the women who have fought and raised the rest of us up enabling and empowering us politically, professionally, inspirationally and everything in between. It’s also about recognising the areas of work and sectors where women remain under-represented and highlights that we still have some work to do!

So I’ve been incredibly disheartened and surprised that in sharing on my social channels other projects, art and blog posts about gender equality and championing women that I’ve lost audience and received messages from individuals who clearly do not champion gender equality and feminism – and it has reminded me how essential projects like WORTH and how brave people like LK are for putting themselves out there…..

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LK is crowdfunding for project WORTH and it won’t happen with you! It really seriously won’t….we need you to donate. Before we move on to LK – I thought I’d express why I love this project and why I’m donating to it….

It recognises the wonderful humans that fought and enabled some of us to get the vote. I think sometimes we forget how big a deal it was for The Suffragettes to stand up against society and the patriarchy of the time and demand change, to be heard and ensured visibility. We are forever indebted to these women – they enabled us to strive towards the path where women can be anything and anyone they want to be….astronauts, business owners, politicians, playboy bunnies, Britney Spears….

It’s championing women in underrepresented sectors… it’s so important to recognise that there is still work that needs to be done and there are still some sectors where a woman is a lone voice in the room. And I’ve been that lone woman before….

Project WORTH is empowering women – by supporting this project – we are supporting and enabling others! You’re uniting women with a cause and common voice – encouraging them to discover and realise their worth within them….WORTH really speaks to my interests, my motivations as The Culture Vulture (to empower others) and of course, my heart.

So let’s hand over to Lady Kitt to find out more about the project.

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For those that didn’t read my last blog post….. tell me who you are and a bit about you?

Hiya, I’m Kitt. I live in Newcastle and LOVE the North East with a wild passion. I’m an artist, an activist, a Nasty Women, a drag king and a parent to two lush little people. My favourite colour is red and I’m the oldest person I know who likes emojis as much as I do.

You’ve been called “The International Superstar of feminism”…. How the bliddy hell did that feel

😀 😁  😃 😄 😅 😆 😉 😊 😋 😎 😍 😘 😗 😙 😚

It felt a bit like that ^^

It’s a pretty bold statement made by Callum and Alex the lovely folks behind Creative Debuts (CD) London. The local feminist art group that I’m part of, Nasty Women North East, collaborated on a project with CD earlier in the year and from that they invited us to be part of The Anti-Art Fair in London in October. The fair is a celebration of international creativity and a call for greater diversity in the arts. If you’re in London Oct 4th-7th get yourself along!! You can even get a lovely little (33%) Nasty discount by using the discount code NWFRIENDS.

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Nasty Women North East are showcasing a couple of our projects ‘the (small but) FIERCE mag’ – a magazine for children who want to change the world and the adults who support them and the Nasty Women International Art Prize 2018. I’m also one of the artists showing work in the Nasty Women section of the fair, curated by Elijah Wheat Showroom, New York..

Being labelled an International Super of Feminism is totally mega … generally I’m pretty confident about my abilities, you certainly couldn’t call me modest; but when I saw that – blush inducing for sure and anything like that label comes with sense of responsibility. So I feel like I’d better boss the shit out of this feminist ‘art-ing’ now someone’s said that. So LET’S DO IT!

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What’s been your experience as an identifying female in the work place and in the arts?

On an interpersonal level, for me, generally fine, often fantastic. But I have heard dreadful things from other women in the arts. One women I know missed out on a big commission because she had recently got married and the commissioners assumed that she was going to have children (which she wasn’t) and assumed that by having children she would no longer be able to take on work- rubbish!!

On a more general level- fucking dreadful. It’s been relatively well reported in national media in the last year or so, that there is a woeful lack of female artists in public collections. Not just lack of women but the general lack of diversity is mind bogglingly bad. Many institutions are addressing this, but it’s a slow old slog.

It’s not just changing the attitudes to collecting but also changing the way that existing collections shown, interpreted and cared for. With a few exceptions the lack of women in senior roles in museums, galleries, within funding bodies, educational institutions etc, really effects all this. Also, the prices women artists can expect for their work is considerable less than for male artists. There tends to be poor provision for parents in the Arts. Residencies, especially rarely offer provision / support for artist with caring responsibilities. I could go on and on and on…

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So today we are chatting about your project: WORTH…. Can you tell me about the project? What’s it about? What was the inspiration?

It started early last year! Our children have some great books celebrating amazing women in history- which are absolutely lush, however a lot of these women are dead or super-duper famous. So I thought I’d like to teach my children about women who I personally think are amazing – but aren’t necessarily as well known.  I was inspired by Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign to have more women represented on Bank of England issue bank notes – so I’ve celebrated these women and created portraits – papercutting the faces of several local women like MP Chi Onwurah and drag artist Venus Di Milo onto various currency notes. I’ve also included some completely astonishing children who are already awesome campaigners and activists.

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Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign led to Jane Austen appearing on the above £10 note

Finding out about all these people has been so inspiring- it makes me feel good about the world. It’s also, connected to the centenary of (some) women’s right to vote in the UK- it pulls together a lot of things I’m interested in. But, you know the more I think about it, the more I realise it’s a bit of love letter really to these women I admire and to my children. I want to show them everyone has the ability to make the world a better place and to do things that they believe in- age, gender, all sorts of other stuff might get in your way, but it doesn’t have to stop you.

Projects like this are essential to celebrate how far we’ve come and highlight areas that need to be worked on – you’re a creative change maker! Where do you think women are the most underrepresented?

In the UK it’s in STEM for sure. One of my WORTH portraits is of Prof Charlotte Roberts, Archaeology professor at Durham University; for me she is a great example of a women who has approached work in STEM and in academia in a really unusual and interesting way- she actually started her career as a nurse. If you have a chance – look her up I would really recommend it; she has done some great interviews and is really fun and engaging about her subject.

Over the last 10 years I done several of collaborations with scientists (many of the women) and have heard first-hand accounts of gender discrimination within STEM workplaces. This prompted me to start researching about women in STEM, which is quite depressing. According to Wise Campaign statistics, in the UK in 2017 only 23% of the STEM workforce identified as female. But there are some fantastic people and organisations working to change this. For anyone interested in this the Athena SWAN awards and charter is a great place to start.

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You have and will immortalise some amazing women by papercutting their portraits out of currency notes……but why use paper currency and paper cutting as the medium?

A loooong time ago- before I studied art, I used to make stencils for spray painted work. I made thousands of them! And then I started to look at the stencils and think “these are quite interesting object in themselves”. I didn’t really do anything with it for ages, until my sister commissioned me to create some artwork for an album by her then band (Bridie Jackson and the Arbour).

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Album cover

Initially the idea was to create a spray painted work, but as it developed into a paper cut and that was the first time I really made a finished work that was a paper cut. I love the simplicity of the process, I love that it’s pretty eco-friendly, I love that it’s so fragile…. The practice is largely considered to be a craft, it’s something that has a long history of being made in a domestic setting, often by women, from old newspapers etc – Beamish Museum has some great example of some of these for anyone who, like me, is a paper nerd.

It’s a pretty performative art form- As much of my practice is performance based that appeals to me hugely- Hans Christen Anderson used to tell stories and make paper cuts at the same time- by the end of the story he would present the listeners with a paper cut character from the tale! I just love it.

Cutting up money started with wanting to create a response to Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign. I made the first piece in 2017, which is of Malala Yousifazi. I showed it at the 1st UK Nasty Women exhibition and it was really well received and then brought by a collector in Amsterdam. That experience just made me want to do more. Also, cutting up money is very fun- physically fun because it’s thin but strong and smooth which is great for very intricate paper cuts and it feels a tad anarchic!

I’d been doing the series for over a year before I realized that there is quite a community of money defacing artists round the world! I started following a few on Instagram and then the fantastic Bob Osborne (Rebel not Taken) approached me to be in a book of defaced banknote art and an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery; since then I’ve met loads of fellow money artists – it’s great!

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Elements of WORTH is featured in the book Cash is King – available in The Saatchi Gallery, London; can you tell me how this came about? It’s totally brilliant!

Via Instagram.

There are loads of shit things about Instagram- I could write a book about those; but there are also very good things. Being able to directly connect with people all over the world who share a very specific interest or a passion with you is one.

I used the hashtag #feministdefacedbanknoteart And that’s how it happened…

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You’re crowdfunding for this project…. Tell me why should people support the project and donate?

The feedback I’ve had from supporters of the project so far is that they are excited to be part of a project that reflects their political believes, supports a local artist and is celebratory. People have been extremely generous and some have told me what they would have used the money for if not for the project- which is really interesting (everything from designer socks, to gig tickets, packets of fags and a months’ worth of “posh” cleaning products!!). This project has already had many successes and looks set to have more- I think it’s fun for people to be able to say- “I helped make that project happen“. Which is absolutely true- despite having sold work from the series I have completely run out of money to move the project forward- it’s pretty expensive coz- you know I’m cutting up 50 quid notes … every time someone donates I get closer to creating the next work in the series, that’s vital for me and exciting for supporters.

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So now on to the mega important question; how do people donate to support project: WORTH?

Through my Just Giving page

If WORTH is successfully funded – what will it enable you to do?

It will enable me to make, exhibit and promote the whole series of 13 planned works. I will also run a workshop on how to create a successful gender equality project like Caroline Criado-Perez’s project.

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You’ve got loads of brilliant rewards if people support the crowdfunding campaign – can you tell me a bit about them?

Aww thank you- I’m glad you like them! I think it’s really important to offer something back to people who have supported the project. Any amount up to £25- I invite people pop into my studio (in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) and pick something from my portfolio of sketches, practice pieces and unfinished beauties; they tend to be A4. £25 will get you one of my $1 skull cuts, entitled “So many ways I love you”; each one is made by cutting between 30-80 love heart shapes from a $1dollar bill.

The pieces are backed with black card and accompanied by a small glass vial filled with the cut out hearts! I also keep making odd different dollar cuts like a zebra or a butterfly- keep an eye on my social if you want to see what I come up with next…..

£70 will get you a bespoke portrait (created by cutting hearts from a single sheet of papyrus) of a subject of your choice.

£100 a 2.5 hr paper cutting workshop at my house or studio for 2-6 people

£300 one of the Worth pieces once the exhibition is finished

Apart from the workshop, these are all super reduced prices for the work and are only available through the Just Giving campaign! I am also, open to suggestions so if there’s something someone wants and they think I might be able to do it- they should just get in touch!

Are you going to have a project launch party if the funding is successful?

YES!!! I love a party and I especially love a feminist art party. On Fri Nov 2nd 7-10 pm at the glorious PRAXIS Gallery in Commercial Union house in Newcastle I will be unveiling the completed series; there will be interactive art, music, performances, and FREE drinks. Everyone is welcome.

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What was the moment you realised your ‘WORTH’ as a woman? And also as an artist?

There are so many answers to this question- it’s a constant evolution. I’m generally pretty confident, but there are certainly been times where I’ve questioned myself especially when our children where very little. Not exactly my WORTH, but thought am I doing enough? Am I looking outwards enough or I’m I just getting a bit insular And nest-y?!

Getting involved in Nasty Women was part of the answer to those questions. I guess I was thinking- being a “good parent” isn’t just about looking out for the children’s immediate needs- it’s about looking at the world more widely and thinking what could do with changing- what battles have I had that I don’t want my children to have, or at least I don’t want them to have those battles feeling unsupported.

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WORTH celebrates some women getting the vote…. How do you feel about the Suffragette movement? I sometimes feel like there is another wave happening right now – people like me and you as the rebels pushing and championing…..

I think some of the utter drivel that we still have to put up with even now irrespective of the things we campaign for is terrible – And that’s now, in the 21st century, where we are supported by people all over the world, where there are feminist politicians, policy makers and police officers. We have so many rights and come from such a base of strength in many ways. And it’s STILL hard as fuck.

I just can’t even imagine how complex it must have been for people involved in the suffragette movement back in the 1900s. Having said all that, I’m still very uncomfortable with the acts of destruction and violence that some campaigners carried out. Also the Suffragettes were a women only organisation- not my sort of thing. I think things will be fairer and better by everyone having a stake in the change and through cooperation; not be excluding certain groups. But then there are also things about the Suffragists which I find complicated- it was largely a very middle class organisation, focussed on parliamentary activity which restricted it to people who lived near London / who could write / afford to send letters. I know I can’t possibly understand the circumstance of those women and how desperate they were for change, but I always want to try and find ways of creating change in peaceful and cooperative ways. Having said that I’m the one who’s chopping up 100s of pounds worth of perfectly legal, useful money to make a point, so what do I know…

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Do you a role model/inspiration?

Soo, so many- that’s what WORTH is all about!! This could be a loooong list, but some people who really inspire me at the moment: My amazing sister Bridie Jackson, Nasty Women North East co- founders Michaela Wetherell and Aly Smith, one of my WORTH subjects Francesca Di Giorgio, long term chum and male Nasty Woman David Wright and You.

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Ohhh being one of your inspirations…. Now that is a BIG compliment and you’re one of mine. How would you describe a modern day feminist in 2018?

Me! You! Anyone (any gender, age, background- no Limits) who believes in gender equality.

Project: WORTH in 2019 is….?

Aaaaahhhh exciting- sooo many plans and amazing opportunities. I can’t say much specific at the moment, but WORTH is going International.

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Well that sounds flipping exciting….. and sounds like I will be doing another Lady Kitt blog post in 2019!

So please donate to Project: WORTH – if any of the above has hit a cord and lit a fire in your belly – please donate. Only you can make this amazing project happen! You can donate HERE!

Very soon I will be doing some live social media from INSIDE Lady Kitt’s studio (8th October) – I will be going behind the scenes of Project: WORTH in action!

You can also find out more about and meet Lady Kitt by booking on to her Paper Cutting workshop in Gateshead on 11th October! It’s 12 per ticket, you’ll be using Project: WORTH as inspiration for your papercutting and you will also be able to donate to WORTH during the workshop.

And that’s all for now Culture Vultures!

p.s. DONATE!

All rise for Lady Kitt; subversive, perfectly ridiculous & immensely talented.

The whole point of International Women’s Day is to celebrate women, feminism, Northern lasses and champion women who rock your world. So for this year’s, International Women’s Day, I wanted to profile an artist and creative that I personally have loved from a far since I first became aware of her – her work, passion, innovative and interesting projects and commitment to creativity and  equality.

Well hello Lady Kitt…..total megababe. Kitt’s projects, work, events and her exciting ambitions are not only inspirational to the regional, National and Internation sector – but to me, she is someone  brave, bold, empowered and doing creative things that are truly exciting and making her mark in a thriving and vibing independent arts and cultural sector. She’s my kinda gal and I’m thrilled she accepted my invitation to be feature in this blog post.

BOOM – Happy International Women’s Day Lady Kitt – reet so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about you and your extremely diverse practice?

Hi, I’m Kitt- I’m a…. “Maker”. I guess that best sums it up. Art, jokes, food, quite a lots of mess, and, with my lovely husband Andy, a couple of super little humans. It’s all making really isn’t it?!

It’s funny – the diverse practice thing, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot recently. I reckon the tools I use are quite diverse- there’s research, paper cutting, mass bubble blowing, fruit carving, performance, lectures, projects, … but really, the core of my work has always pretty much been the same- it’s all about delving into, developing, celebrating the social aspects of creativity.

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Everyone has a different journey into the Arts; what was your journey into the arts?

I’m not massively into the idea that people are “born” to certain things; but looking at my early life it’s easy to link it to my practice now. I was brought up in a creative family. I grew up with my wonderful younger brother Louise who was severely disabled and terminally ill. He was an amazing artist and seeing the pleasure and power he experienced through being creative has had a huge influence on how I see art and why I think it’s important. I was taught at home until I was 14 – so had a good amount of time to focus on being creative and lots of time to spend with one of the most important people in my life- my sister, Bridie. Our relationship and creative adventures together are big, big part of almost everything I do.

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I’ve always made physical stuff- embroidery, nests, paper cuts- but for a long time I didn’t think I was an artist. I started off wanting to be a dancer. I trained in the Indian dance/drama discipline Bharata Natyam for six years and was taught contemporary dance by the completely awesome Trish Winters. It was through Trish that I started to experience some really playful ways of using and presenting performance. During my art foundation degree, I started making work that combined performance, working with community groups and making stuff all at once. But it wasn’t until I was at university that I really discovered live art and artists with a ‘social practice’ and then I was like- yes- that’s me- I have a gang!

Lady Kitt is an amazing artist name  – I love it!

Name wise-when I was coming up to my 21st birthday- my parents were talking about what to give me as a birthday present. I’ve always been a Republican (in the anti-monarchy sense), really disliking the idea of being subjugated, inherited titles and all that gubbins, so they offered to change my first name by Deed Poll to “Lady”, as a daft, subversive, two fingers up the whole system. I loved it – it’s such a cheeky gift- so we did all the paper work and everything- sent it off, but it was rejected – on the grounds that I was trying to “assume a title”- which is sort of pleasingly ironic. I thought “fuck it- I’ll just call myself Lady Kitt and I’ll keep doing it until everyone else does too” and that’s what I’ve done.

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You have a very strong visual identity within your work and expression of yourself as an artist – how did you develop this?

It’s really interesting that you say I have a strong visual identity; looking at it objectively I can see what you mean, but that’s definitely not how I experience it myself. For me, I have a strong methodological process, and some very definite ideas about making art in inclusive, ethical ways.

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I’ve developed my process by pretty much by throwing myself in at the deep end and seeing what happens. I don’t ever really think “this is too ridiculous” (although it nearly always is). I think “how can I do this so it genuinely, clearly says something I’m interested in” or “how can I get lots of people involved and change something we all want to change” or “how can this be the most fun possible?”.

Like with the first Nasty Women exhibition last year- I just thought “this is really important, I want people in the North East to have an opportunity to be part of this. I want an opportunity to be part of this”. I didn’t think “Bugger we can’t do this- we’ve got no money, no infrastructure, no gallery, no clue”- which was all true! So yup, that’s how I develop the process…

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But visually, with the sort of “end product” – I don’t consider myself to have a very coherent style or visual language- I just make the next thing that I feel compelled to make, without ever thinking does it look like something I’ve done before- will it “fit in” with my existing body of work? Maybe it’s because the physical objects I make aren’t really the “end product” to me- to me they are a tool for getting to the goal- which could be raising awareness, building a community, changing a policy, having a good time.

I love your ethos of experimentation, challenging creative roles and processes – where does your creative playfulness come from?

Thank you! I like to see people reacting to things in curious, inquisitive, ways and I like to create situations that let people do that. So some of it comes from that- basically it just makes me happy!

It‘s fun for me to invite people to apply to be my muse (like it’s a formal job), or to encourage people to use my head as an art gallery or to make a performance where the content is authored by viewers sending me text messages telling me what to do. So that’s part of it- And some of it is more philosophical. People are creative- making things in a (generally!) thoughtful way is one of the things that makes us Human.

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Often people don’t get (or give themselves) opportunities to enjoy that- I want to create situations that encourage people to make physical stuff, make decisions and think about / celebrate the importance of being creative. I also hate all the hierarchical “hi/ low brow art” crap. I think it’s detrimental to individuals and to society. People thinking that they are not creative or not creative in the “right way” stops them from developing vital skills.

Making stuff gives people agency- it’s a chance to physically encounter change. Making in groups is like apes grooming- it’s social glue. When people start being creative together they almost instantly create a little community that has its own culture and rules- just like that, out of nothing, it’s like magic. Once people do that and know that they can do that then, they often start to explore other wider things that they can create and change. A community full of people who feel empowered in that way can be supportive, kind, resilient. Elitist ideas of what is art and who is an artist just stop all that dead. Sorry, I could go on about this for EVER.

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It’s great to be able to showcase you, on International Women’s Day….. what does being a female artist in 2018 mean? What does it mean to you?

Wow- well, I’m extraordinarily lucky. For me being a female artist in 2018 (in the UK), means freedom. I’m free to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it. A few people might think I’m idiotic, a lot of people will question me (and so they should) – but no one can stop me. Being a female artist in other places in 2018 doesn’t mean freedom, it can mean absolutely the opposite. And being a female, or a being queer, or being an activist can still mean torture and death. For me, knowing this and campaigning to change it, is a very important part of being a female artist and of being a Nasty Woman.

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How do you plan to mark it this week and #pressforprogress?

Again I’m so lucky. This year I have work in 4 exhibitions all over the UK all opening on Thurs 8th. I’ll be in London performing at the Creative Debuts and Nasty Women “Empowerment” exhibition along with a group of bloody amazing Nasty Women from all over the world.

We are also launching the Nasty Women International Art Prize this week. The aim of the prize is to: Recognise and reward Nastiness in art and activism. Prizes include an Artist residency, money and opportunities to show work in UK, USA & Holland.

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Last year hundreds of artists from all over the world gave their time and work to Nasty Women events- the generosity was overwhelming. It’s estimated that the movement has raised half a million dollars for Planned Parenthood and other women’s & LGBTQ+ charities so far. This year Nasty Women organisers wanted to create an opportunity to celebrate those artists and an art prize seemed like a good choice! The judging panel consists of 12 Artists, curators, gallerists & activists from around the world including:

Carolina Wheat & Liz Nielsen from Elijah Wheat Showroom, New York (USA), artist and co-founder of NW Amsterdam Airco Caravan (NL), Curator & NW North East Co-founder Michaela Wetherell and me!, to name just a few. There’s so much to say I don’t really know where to start, but we’d love it if lots of North East based artist entered! Anyone who is interested can check out here.

Do you have a female artist that you’re inspired by?

So many, but not just women, not just artists… all sorts of everyone. Me and my sister just went to see Bryony Kimmings “a pacifist’s guide to the war on cancer”; it was so funny and thoughtful and generous and utterly devastating, but in a really cathartic way.

I’ve just read Scottee’s play “Bravado”- it’s had a big impact on me, I’m making a lot of work about toxic masculinity at the moment and he’s perspective as a “sheep in wolves clothing in the world of men” is very shocking and inspiring.

Betsy Greer- the mother of Craftivism!

Nasty Women North East co-founders Michaela W and Aly Smith.

Venus di Milo- a Newcastle based performer who describes herself as “just a drag queen with no arms”.

Leeanne and Gareth at Thought Foundation in Gateshead– running a stunning, creative business whilst bring up two small children….

The world is full of bloomin’ fantastic, inspiring and very Nasty (in the nicest possible way) people.

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Tell me about Nasty Women?

Nasty Women is a global art and activism movement started by New York based artist Roxanne Jackson in Nov 2016 just after the election of Donald Trump. It is pro equality and anti-Trump. There have been Nasty Women events all over the world, raising money for and awareness of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights charities and organisations.

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What is a “Nasty Woman”?

The Nasty Women North East’s definition is:

Anyone!!! It is not necessary to identify a women or an artist

  1. Believing in equality and wanting to protect human rights (in particular women’s rights)
  2. Believing that art (in the broadest sense of the word- poetry, dance, drag, music, knitting etc) can be used to help increase equality and protect human rights
  3. Being happy to welcome and support others who also want to do these things…..

If this sounds like you, then as far as we are concerned you are Nasty- Hurrah!!!

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Will there be another Nasty Women conference in 2018?

I’m not sure- we won’t be organising one because we’re busy with the art prize and creating a feminist art magazine for children under 10! Also, if there was another I don’t think the same group should organise it -as a big part of the movement is about understand other people’s perspectives and doing things in a way that suits your own setting, so if there is another one I hope it’s somewhere completely different. I hope another group do organise one because I’d LOVE to go to it!

That sounds like a something, the Culture Vulture would be interested in…..how can I, and other potential Nasty Women, get involved?

People can get involved in a huge variety of ways- it’s a totally grass roots, DIY movement, you don’t need permission or any kind of initiation! So you can have an exhibition in your garage and invite your mam and 5 friends and raise money for a local women’s charity.

You can send your art work to one of the many NW shows going on around the world- these are listed in the USA website , you can submit work to the Nasty Women International Art Prize & you can volunteer to help a local Nasty women group

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You can also call out inequality and gendered idiocy when you see and experience it, you can tell children you know that they are thoughtful and strong and funny and creative and fierce and fabulous regardless of their gender. You can listen, really listen to the next person who says something sexiest because being Nasty is about being open minded, it’s about understanding perspectives that are not your own and looking for long term solutions.

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But ok – we are kindreds…..but let’s get back to you – Lady Kitt; what projects do you have planned?

I’m focussing on my projects “Worth”, “King Kitt” and the “Making Manifesto”.

Throughout 2018, to coincide with the centenary of (some) women’s right to vote in the UK, I am making a series of works called the “worth” portraits- inspired, in part, by Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign to have Jane Austin’s image on the Bank of Engalnd 10 pound note. When that campaign was going on I was horrified by the abuse (including death threats) Criado-Perez received for wanting to celebrate the achievements of women in the same way the achievements of many men have been celebrated for years. The works are portraits of amazing women made by cutting love heart shapes from real £50 notes, each one depicts a woman who I feel needs celebrating. I am always on the lookout for new subjects, so if you know a wonderful women who needs celebrating please get in touch!

I’m also hoping to sleep quite a lot after next week as that’s something that’s been a bit neglected of late….

Votives To King Kitt and the Pixelated Pain 2018 Lady Kitt

What does being a feminist/megababe mean to you?

For me being a feminist is not just about women’s rights- it is about equal rights for everyone. The “King Kitt” series of works are about toxic masculinity- which I feel creates a series of circumstances that can make men comically manly, dangerously macho and devastatingly vulnerable. According to the Office for National Statistics- of the 5,965 suicides registered in the UK in 2016, a total of 4,508 were male and 1,457 were female. More equality will, hopefully, create a society where shocking statistics like that can become historical records, not lived realities.

The Making Manifesto is a research project based at Byker Community Centre about the benefits of community making. It involves a lot of the stuff I’ve ranted about earlier- hi art elitism and Making physical things and giving people agency!

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Wow – ok so for me as The Culture Vulture- I feel so inspired – this entire interview has given me a kick to be more Nasty, to be more experimental and to seriously consider doing something North East Nasty Women Conference related.

Big love and happy International Women’s Day Culture Vultures.

Stupid by Sian Armstong: “there is no right way – there’s only your way and you have to trust it.”

So hi, I’m the Culture Vulture – if you know me professionally, then you know me as on it, organised, ambitious and together. You might even wonder how I manage to do so much in so little time, how do I keep so many projects on the go, do I sleep!?

Well I’m going to let you into a little secret….. I do sleep. A lot. I prioritise work over my life. My personal life is a bit of a mess. I adult well professionally…. In my social life, my friends know me as scatty, all over the place, disorganised, hot mess etc etc.

I often read those Buzzfeed “if you’re late and/or messy then you’re clever” – makes me feel better but I know that’s I’m just struggling to be a proper adult. I’m super messy, my bedroom often looks like the room of someone having a breakdown and there are main adult mile stones that I thought I would have achieved – but I haven’t got round to it yet or life, well I just play it proudly by own rules, in my own time.

So I’m 31…. I’m trying to figure out my life and the difference between what I should and could. And at 31, professionally and socially – I’ve realised whilst I don’t have it figured out, I’m ok with being a whirlwind. And that’s what I am – a beautiful whirlwind.

So I was super excited when I found out about an upcoming show called Stupid as part of Sunderland Stages on Thursday 2nd November at Arts Centre Washington – it’s all about figuring things out, it’s about realising that no one knows how to adult, not really and life is one hell of an interesting journey.

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I’ve been working as The Culture Vulture with writer Sian Armstrong and Director Anna Ryder recently whilst the show is in development. It’s been such an interesting process to be a part of – the show has absolutely transformed in terms of storyline and concept. A theatre show is so much more than just the end thing the audience gets to see and it’s been a privilege to gain some insight into how a show goes from conception, to scratch, to stage. And the fact, it pretty much seems to be modelled thematically on my life and the character ‘Stupid’ is my honorary soul sister – is just, well brilliant.

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So I’m really looking forward to seeing Stupid this Thursday at Arts Centre Washington and in the interest of championing my local creative #girlgang –  I thought I’d catch up with Sian Armstrong and Anna Ryder ahead of the show’s debut, find out what it’s all about and why other Culture Vultures NEED to go and see this show!

What is Stupid about?

Sian: Stupid is about one woman’s journey to figure out who she is, where she’s going, questioning whether she really is what she feels she is; stupid. It’s about honesty, and sharing stories that often go left unsaid. It’s about owning up to not having a plan, even when we feel like we should have one. It’s about challenging what we deem intelligent to be in our society. It’s about no longer pretending to have the answer.

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Anna: Stupid is about feeling inadequate; that feeling you are one step behind the world and that those ahead of you are imbued with some kind of super-powered resilience and smarts. It explores how ‘stupid’ is such an isolating and individual-defining feeling, when in fact (as with most negative thoughts we harbour about ourselves) it’s existence is only possible when framed alongside other people and its longevity as a feeling is perpetuated by systems and attitudes that are, by design, riddled with classism and sexism. It is a product of our hyper-competitive and one-size-fits all education system.

What can audiences on Thursday expect?

Sian: Audiences should expect honesty, laughter, and a story that hopefully brings people together in the room, talking about the times we’d maybe rather forget – and seeing the power in those stories and the flaws and vulnerabilities we may associate with them.

Anna: Audiences can expect a funny, relatable and inspiring story. It looks at what seems like small experiences and re-frames them as a collective society experience. ‘Not just me then’ can sound twee, but it is amazing how cathartic the feeling can be!

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One line to sum up the show?

Sian and Anna: Brave, magic, relatable theatre that allows you to shake off the desire to always get it right.

Can you tell me about Stupid’s development process?

Sian: I’ve been developing Stupid for about three years now – in 2014 I was asked if I was to make a piece of theatre what would it be about and my immediate answer was ‘feeling stupid’.

I guess this show really began at my kitchen table, back in 2003, with my Dad by my shoulder trying for the umpteenth time, to teach me maths. The equations looked as jumbled as my head felt. I had always felt bottom of the pile when it came to academia and as I have grown, this feeling of ‘not quite sure’ has grown with me – which left me questioning am I seen as stupid? I feel it quite a lot. I think a lot of us do. But what does it really mean?

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The show has taken so many twists and turns since 2014. In the early stages of development, my idea was more focused on Dyslexia – after my best friend got diagnosed with Severe Learning Difficulty in her third year of university; I was fascinated by how late she was diagnosed with this. It was devastating to see how much this affected my best friend’s self-confidence, she felt lost, and couldn’t quite come to terms with it – leading her to quit her degree.

The show has also been influenced by my experience working as a Teaching Assistant and Supply Teacher for a short period of time, this gave me an insight into the pressures teachers and students are under to meet their own individual aims but more depressingly the struggles they sometimes face to tick the right boxes and fit the system they are all part of; especially those who are older, who have recently left or are about to leave higher education, and facing decisions on what’s next.

Throughout the development of Stupid I have done various audience engagement projects, running workshops with potential audiences, from youth and theatre groups, students in schools and online surveys – throughout this experience I have met people who have helped the shows development in various ways, in terms of content but also understanding our audiences and the stories that relate to them.

What was your inspiration for the show?

Sian: My inspiration was the feeling of stupidity itself, and how it exists in us all. We all feel it but what does it really mean?

All the people I have met throughout my development have inspired me in some way – if its answers they gave online or stories they told me about an embarrassing moment; they have all inspired the story I want to tell through Stupid.

I’m also constantly inspired by things I watch on telly or online, I’m obsessed with TED talks and people such as vulnerability expert; Brene Brown and Ken Robinson. I’m also inspired by sitcoms, and films, most recent examples are Fleabag, Girls and The Incredible Jessica James. I’ve found when you’re creating something you get inspired by all your experiences and the conversations you have.

What’s your writing process?

Sian: Pffft. I don’t think I have a process really.

I’m currently working with Caroline Horton who has been amazing to work with. That’s one thing I would recommend for anyone who’s starting to write – find a writer/theatre-maker/performer you admire and ask them to be your mentor. I don’t think I could have done this without the support and advice Caroline has given me so far. I told Caroline recently that I’ve been slightly pressured by trying to find a process that works for me and she said in one of our recent sessions together “The things you read about how to do it right, sometimes you just have to say screw them!…” I found this extremely reassuring and empowering! I’m constantly trying to do things ‘right’ and it’s so nice to have someone tell you – sometimes there is no right way – there’s only your way and you have to trust it.

I do know one thing about my process though – I need to talk to people about it – I do not do well on my own writing at a desk, I’m definitely an extrovert!..Writing can be so lonely – I’ve found talking to people about my writing has helped shut those negative ‘this is shit’ voices out of my head and has opened up exciting conversations that inspired me to go away and write stuff … But I’m definitely still finding my way through it, my process seems to change all the time, especially within a devising process. I like to imagine devising as this big, scary, creative beast and writing as it’s treat!

You got funding for the show’s development – can you tell me a bit about that?

Sian: I have received Arts Council England funding for my development process for Stupid and have been supported by local theatre venues and companies across the region such as Sunderland Stages, Arts Centre Washington, Mortal Fools, Northern Stage and Sunday for Sammy.

All I have to say about funding is there are people that can help you, you just have to ask for it. The ACE application isn’t an easy process, I asked a lot of my friends who had applied before to read my applications, and asked for any top tips they had.

But the best thing to do is meet ACE and get their advice and support. I was terrified when I first had a meeting with Arts Council England, because ‘NEED TO PROVE MYSELF’ was all I could think of – but I found talking to someone at such an early stage isn’t about proving yourself, it’s just about being sensible – and helps you understand the best way to approach your application. I didn’t feel judged in any way, if anything I felt more empowered to actually go for it! … Also when looking for funding try and find ways that YOU might help the people who have money – it works both ways.

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Anna: It sometimes feels hard to vocalise that ‘yes, I am a professional artist’ without feeling silly or wanting to qualify the statement with a self-deprecating remark. Fear of being proved otherwise or fear of the gauche way that this declaration can sound, is fuelled by a lack of tangible ways in which to distinguish the difference in output from a creative ‘hobby’ to that of professional work. Despite all my best intentions and my politics, funding definitely helped towards feeling that my work was legitimate. It was like receiving a felt stamped elephant on your worksheet with the words ‘GOOD JOB’ heralded above. However not long after this initial validation, I began to realise what a ridiculous concept this vindication was built on. The show and intention remained exactly as it had been before a big green arts council tick. The only difference was that it could be realised in a shorter space of time with fewer concerns about paying my rent. While this freedom is not to be played down- the work I wanted to make and my creative ability to do so remained as was before the theatre gods took pity on me and granted me a small sum of money.

Funding is vital, scarce and a life source for those of us trying to get by on zero-hour contracts and the rewards of self-employed artistic projects. However, it is of great importance that we learn to see our creative work as valid, whether we are recipients of a grant or not. We must continue to fight for the legitimacy of what we do and that small voice of doubt in the back of my head was the first barrier I needed to demolish

One thing you want audiences to take away on Thursday after watching Stupid at Arts Centre Washington?

Sian: To be empowered by their own uncertainties, vulnerabilities and potential discoveries.

But what’s next?

Sian: We plan on touring Stupid Nationally in Autumn 2018. So watch this space!

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Well thanks Sian and Anna!

So come join me on Thursday to see Stupid and see the finale moment of this development process. I will be front row – cheering Sian and Anna on – like a proud parent. Excited to feel empowered! Oh and it’s my birthday this week – I’ll be 32 – and will be accepting gin and tonics as gifts (just in case you were wondering) so I’m excited to celebrate my unconventional and chaotic life whilst watching Stupid.

If Stupid was real, we’d defs be mates and she’d be in my girl gang.

Ticket for Stupid are available from here!