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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tell me about your journey into theatre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you want audiences to take away?

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

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

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Lindsay – Bike, dyke, frigid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tell me about the creative team behind it Women Warriors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We sold out.

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

Again, completely sold out!

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

Are you a real life Workie Tickets?

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

What does being a feminist in 2019 mean to you?

Lindsay – NECESSARY.

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

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

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

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

What’s next for Workie Ticket after this?

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

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

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

So fellow Culture Vultures, two bits of advice:

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

Over and Out.

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

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

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

”So…when will you get married?”

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

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

“I always wanted to wear a hat”

“Do you think you will ever get married”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about your journey into the arts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the best:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Anarchic, raucous, unpredictable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What wedding traditions would you get rid of?

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

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

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

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

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Previous shows/projects you want to tell me about?

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

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

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Highlight for 2019 for Gracefool Collective?

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

What does it mean to be a feminist in 2019?

Intersectionality and Listening.

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What’s next for Gracefool collective?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An interview with Mona Arshi by The Culture Vulture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you first get published?

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

What inspires you to write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why? Because it wakes up our ears!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

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

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

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Naomi Edmondson in front of one of her murals.

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

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

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

So over to Naomi…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paintings tend to sell via exhibitions and occasionally Instagram.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How do you get approached for commissions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

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

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

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

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

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

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

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

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

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

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

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

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

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

Do you come up North much?

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

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

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

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Make & Mend Festival 2019; A feast & a festival for creatives, crafters & makers…

Well the festival season is fully upon us now and I don’t know about you, but I’m SUPER excited. There are festivals out there to tickle everyone’s fancy; food, music, film, South Asian arts, LGBTQ+, design and even craft!

Make & Mend festival is a one day festival on 7th July at Preston Park in Stockton all about celebrating colour and championing creativity – it’s a day in which you can take the whole day just for you to have a go at different crafts during workshops and take part in Big Makes, watch demos, meet fellow makers, buy creative product lushness from independents and just absorb the creative atmosphere. It’s also a day which invests into wellbeing – so there are wellbeing talks with experts (in this busy world, we all need a bit of advice and empowerment to help us be our best selves), yoga sessions, time to explore the grounds of Preston Park and lush foodie options to purchase through-out the day to keep that creative fuel high!

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Tickets are flying now with their only being one week to go and some workshop slot are sold out and others about to….but there is still time to get your ticket (Starting price £10). Visit website for tickets and here to check out the line up on the day to whet your creative appetite!

I heard about Make & Mend festival last year – I didn’t go and I had a SERIOUS cause of FOMO. One of those events, that everyone who went and everyone who took part in it, raved about and the festival decorations were so innovative – insta worthy x a million. If you’re like me, well you’ll hate missing out too. So this year, when I heard it was happening again, whilst chatting to fellow creatives at Thought Foundation, again everyone was raving about it and how excited they were and I vowed to go!

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Well low and behold – how buzzing was I when Rachel and Lyndsey, the imaginers behind the whole festival got in touch and invited me along on the day to do some live social media taking over their channels to chart the event and all the happenings. One of the things, I always said when I started out with Culture Vulture, was that I’d only work with and champion things that were part of the culture vulture ethos and after chatting to Rachel and Lyndsey, I can confirm they are fearless good eggs with big ambitions for this festival…..

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As that has become tradition on this blog – well I thought I’d catch up with them and interview them to tease out from their perspective why Make & Mend festival is the craft festival you’ve been waiting for and to give the full low down….

So over to Rachel and Lyndsey….

Right let’s start at the beginning…..who are you?

Rachel – We are Make & Mend Company, two friends Rachel & Lyndsey who wanted to set up in business together after redundancy from our day jobs. We combined our passions for making and well being to create a company that celebrates the positive benefits making and in particular sewing can have on your mental health.

The Culture Vulture – As a passionate advocate in the mental health agenda, that sounds right up my street. I advocate the power of drama and writing and you sewing…..basically being creative and having creative opportunities are essential to a balanced happy mind!

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So tell me about the festival?

Lyndsey – We have a strong belief that making is good for the soul and the festival basically shares this passion. It will be a fantastic day filled with lots of creative opportunities, in a relaxing environment with other like-minded craft addicts – what’s not to love?!

A fun day of colour, character, positivity and wellbeing and we hope people will leave feeling inspired and rejuvenated. There will be the opportunity to enjoy workshops ranging from embroidery to aromatherapy; floral watercolour to bookbinding. There will be artist demos in weaving, letter press and printing from expert makers. We are offering inspiring talks from wellbeing experts which will give you tips on how to integrate more positivity and self-care into your life. There will also be yoga classes where you can unwind for a while and a maker marketplace where you can buy some beautiful handmade products and supplies from some fantastic local makers and artists.

The festival is basically an opportunity to take some time out in beautiful surroundings, relax and unleash your creative spirit!

The Culture Vulture – I’m a firm believer that everyone has a creative spirit bursting to get out!

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Tickets have slightly changed this year from last….tell me about the ticket options available?

So this year we have a few different ticket options;

  • Entry only which gives you access to the full festival site, drop in workshops, craft demos, makers market, talks from well-being experts and access to the well-being garden area for delicious food and relaxing in the sunshine!
  • Then you have the option to add 1 hour workshops into your day with our team of expert crafters making something to take away and learning a new skill and the ticket options include entry +1 workshop, entry +2 workshops and entry +3 workshops (which is our best value ticket).

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Why are crafting and creative opportunities so important?

Lyndsey – We set up Make & Mend because we recognised the importance that craft and creativity has on improving our well-being and we wanted to share this with the world! For us, crafting is a way to relax and unwind; we find it very therapeutic and it is our way of switching off. Everyone is creative (whether they believe it or not!) and doing something creative regularly is a way of exploring your individuality and expressing yourself, giving you freedom to explore new ideas. It’s also a great antidote to sitting at a computer or being on your phone – there’s nothing better than creating something beautiful by hand!

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Advice to someone who has never crafted before but fancies coming along to the festival?

Rachel- Just get started! There can be a real fear that ‘I’m not arty’ or ‘I can’t draw’ but guess what neither can I! It is as much about enjoying the process as it is the end result plus there are so many brilliant crafts out there, that if you don’t get along with one, then just try another! Buying a kit is a great way to try a craft without having to spend a lot on buying materials and equipment.

The Culture Vulture – Oh gosh – I hear you. I was told all through school I was “bad at art” meaning I couldn’t draw…but I’m actually one of the most creative people I know…. I just REALLY can’t draw!

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If you used to craft all the time, but you’ve just got out of the habit or stopped having the time – what’s your advice?

Lyndsey – Same as above – just do it! Start somewhere – it doesn’t matter what the outcome is; it’s about developing confidence again and getting back into the habit. I think we sometimes put high expectations on ourselves about the outcome which can take the joy out of something, but it’s just about enjoying the process and seeing where it takes you. And if it all goes wrong, who cares?

The Culture Vulture – I totally agree with you – I attended a Crafthood event many moons ago and made a red nose day pompom…..it went totally wrong and provided much hilarity for myself, my mum and the gals from the Crafthood, but actually I had such a good evening and loved having a go at something new. Also Sebastian loves chasing it around my kitchen to this day, so everyone was a winner!

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Favourite type of craft?

Rachel – My favourites are all things textile, love a bit of needle felt to stab the stress away, plus embroidery of course!

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Why do you think crafting has come back into fashion?

Lyndsey – It’s great that things seem to have come full circle and there is such an interest in craft again. I think people have realised how beneficial it is to our wellbeing in terms of it being a way to relax. It’s also an anti-device activity! We spend so much time on our phones and on technology that I think people are craving something practical that they can do with their hands. Obviously the interest in sustainability and recycling has had a big impact as people are seeing the value in making and mending again.

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What gave you the inspo for the festival last year?

We run smaller workshops and really enjoyed sharing our ethos with more people and figured why not do something a bit bigger. Our backgrounds are in event management and outdoor festivals so it seemed like an obvious next step. Plus we couldn’t find anything nearby to go to ourselves and it felt like a good time to start celebrating making again!

The Culture Vulture – They say not to put on events for yourself, but actually I’m same, when I see there isn’t something out there that matches what I want, it usually signifies a gap and opportunity!

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So, this is year two for the festival, tell me what’s new for this year?

Lyndsey – We have new workshops such as macramé, bookbinding, printing, aromatherapy, origami and floral wreath making. Our artist demos are also new – opportunities for people to watch the experts and learn a new skill. We also have an artist in residence this year – Raquel Rodrigo who creates beautiful large-scale cross stitch installations. She will be creating something special for us this year at the festival and will be holding workshops where people can get involved and learn more about her techniques.

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One of Raquel Rodrigo’s pieces on a building in Barcelona

Many of last year’s visitors raved about the decorations – where did you get the inspo for them?

Rachel – It’s really all about the colour for us, anything bright and colourful we love! It always starts with a Pinterest board and looking for inspiration online, we create everything ourselves as we are working to a really small budget so we keep it simple and luckily we have a beautiful venue which helps!

The Culture Vulture – The best decorations are done on a budget, it gives the opportunity to get REALLY creative…I LOVED the umbrellas from last year- they are so simple an idea, but yet I’ve never seen it before and it just looked amazing!

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How did you select your list of workshops/facilitators for this year?

Lyndsey – We look at crafting trends and integrate what is current – for example, macramé is hot at the moment! We spend a lot of time researching local artists and finding out what skills are available locally. We always try and keep to local artists where we can.

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An embroidery hoop design you can have a go at one the day with Make & Mend Co

For the more avid crafter, what’s unique about this event?

Rachel – I think it is the range of different workshops on offer and they are such a high quality; we have selected the best makers we can find to teach the workshops so there is bound to be a new craft to learn.

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If YOU were attending as a punter – what activity or workshop would you be most excited about doing yourselves?

If I was coming I would be desperate to make a macramé pot hanger, an origami lampshade and I would love to make a floral wreath (sorry that’s three!). Also really interested in learning more about aromatherapy and the benefits of essential oils.

The Culture Vulture – I have seen the macramé pot hanger and I’ve seen it modelled with a bottle of prosecco in which obviously spiked my interest….crafty, lush AND functional for my Friday feeling vibe…I want to have a go at macramé too!

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You’ve united crafting, making and mindfulness and well-being together….why did you make this connection?

Rachel – I guess the connection has always been there for me, in stressful times I have always turned to sewing to help me, same as some people go running, do gardening or cook. It was always my way to relax and switch off so making people more aware of the mindful benefits of sewing was always something I wanted highlight – that’s why in our embroidery kits we give instructions on how to sew but also on how to appreciate the process and make it a mindful experience.

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To a complete creative nut slash workaholic like myself, I’m actually the most super excited about the talks…can you tell me a bit about them and how you curated them?

Lyndsey – We’re super excited about the talks programme too! We have huge interest in self-care and improving our wellbeing and think that these talks will offer lots of valuable tips which people can integrate into their everyday lives.

We’re wellbeing addicts and are always buying books and attending courses as it has made such a huge different to our lives and helping us to adopt a more positive and resilient attitude. We have been really inspired by our speakers – we either follow them on Instagram, have done their courses or read their articles. We think the topics they will be covering can really make a difference in terms of supporting people to look after themselves and improving their mind-set.

The Culture Vulture – One of the things that I’m learning as The Culture Vulture, is that barriers exist, stopping people being creative or jumping at opportunities – the whole, not having time, feeling guilty for taking time out, lacking in confidence at trying something new etc – so I think with your talks, you’re hitting the nail on the head. I’m really looking forward to live tweeting them!

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What do you want people to take away from the festival?

Rachel – We want them to have fun, make something, relax, meet new people, enjoy a little time for themselves and leave feeling inspired to try and include a little more making in their lives!

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Well there you have it – a colourful day with a festival vibe of making, creating and taking time out for yourself awaits at Make & Mend Festival on 7th July at Preston Park in Stockton. Tickets are still available but they are selling really quickly now with one week to go, so don’t be like me and spend the rest of the year with FOMO, get your ticket now!

And if you’ve already got your ticket – then YASSSS- make sure to use #makemendfest on the day so I can spy on your creative shenanigans.

(Credit given for the majority of photos used above to Clare Bowes Photography)

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

Thoughtful Night Market Winter 18

There is still something for me about a Saturday night….I struggle to stay in (not a Saturday night TV fan) and yet, the call of Saturday nightclubs are long gone! But I still crave to get out and about on a Saturday night! I love going to different things on a Saturday night that still have an evening vibe and a bit different. This Saturday night I’m hitting up Thought Foundation in Birtley Gateshead for The Thoughtful Night Market Winter 18 edition!

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If you’ve been along before – you’ll know how magical and lush this event is (this one’s even bigger and better!) – but if you haven’t, then it’s a must for this Saturday evening! Go along, go as a troop and I’ll be lurking there.

I thought I’d take some time out from what has been an insane week of Culture Vulture work so far to catch up with my faves The Crafthood who present this event with Thought Foundation!

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Well hello lovelies…right so tell my fellow Culture Vultures who you are and what you do?

We are The Crafthood; a North East based modern craft company. We are a female duo; Kay & Sharon and we deliver contemporary craft workshops and events as well as designing and producing a range of products.

(Visit their website to see all their lushness in all it’s glory and their Instagram game is pretty good too! http://www.thecrafthood.co.uk)

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Now onto what we are here to hear about….tell everyone about the Thoughtful Night Market!

The Thoughtful Night Market is a collaborative project with the wonderful Thought Foundation. First held in November 2017, we set out to create a ‘market’ that was experiential and engaging with a focus on the provenance, ethics and ethos of the businesses that were selling.

We wanted attendees to come along and have a great night out… for it to be a pleasure away from the hustle of the high street with a great atmosphere; music, great food and a programme of workshops on offer. We also wanted to support and showcase amazing local small creative businesses – at an event they enjoy and are also happy to be part of. We really wanted to champion the #shopindie movement and encourage guests to see the lovely range of unique goodies and talent that is out there. This is the third event and each time round we learn and build something new into it.

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Crafthood Baubles

So tomorrow evening; what can people expect when they visit the Thoughtful Night Market?

There are 2 goody bag drops – for the first 25 through the door at both 5pm or 7:30pm so if you are lucky you may receive one of these bags of treasure made up of a selection of goodies from our stall holders.

Once through the door they can beat the winter chill with some amazing food and drink from the super tasty brain food kitchen at Thought Foundation. There are a selection of creative workshops going on through the night from festive watercolour to chunky knitting to terrarium baubles (more on that later).  There will be live music throughout the evening from a singer that Leanne (Thought Foundation) found, the artist was busking on Northumberland Street at the time!

However, the main feature is of course, the beautiful stalls made up of 25 of the regions’ finest makers and creators alongside the Thought Foundation Shop, which is in constant residence. This is a chance to chat with and meet the makers and find out the story behind the items you choose. If you are a selfie fan then make sure you find the balloon backdrop from our event stylist Imaginarium Balloons – it’s the stuff of Instagram dreams. We hope you feel it is cosy and thoughtfully put together. Entry into the Thoughtful Night Market is £3.50 which includes a donation to our chosen charity Help Refugees – a double whammy of the feel-good factor.

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Crafthood product

You’ve mentioned workshops….what is available to take part in across the evening?

We have three workshops running across the night. Firstly, Festive Watercolour Gift tags with Katie Burns from Katie Burns Design House.  Katie will guide you through some simple contemporary watercolour mark making to create some unique festive gift tags.

Next up, we have Woolly Nana leading a chunky knit hand-woven scarf workshop.  In this workshop you will be provided with everything you need to start your very own chunky hand-woven scarf so no need for needles at all – revelation! Expert tuition will be provided by Woolly Nana and you will leave with your own cosy winter scarf and the skills to make more.

Finally, we have a workshop that is now sold out – Terrarium Bauble making – a little birdie tells us that this proved so popular Hoe’s & Ditches are running another at Thought Foundation on December 2nd.

All of these workshops are available to book onto in advance via Event Brite (all include cost of entry into the event).

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I’m passionate about purchasing all my Christmas gifts from independents this year…. So tell me more about the traders?

We have over 25 very varied traders with us on the night and have recently written a blog which details them all (along with a few of our other favourite North East indies) and have really tried to cover all bases so you’ll get something for everyone.

(Culture Vultures you can read the blog post here! )

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What about the live music? Can’t have a Saturday night without some music….

Along with the chance to participate in a creative workshop, we have live music from Megan Davidson. You can check her out before the event on spotify – we cannot wait to hear her on the night and Megan may even provide a little entertainment outside to people waiting to get in! It’s the third market of its kind and have found that people come along and help contribute to the atmosphere and banter so whether you come with friends, partners or family; it’s a great chance to get Christmas ready in a chilled out way.

How did this collaboration with Thought Foundation come about?

We connected with Thought Foundation as soon as we heard about them. They appealed to us so much because of the ethos behind their brand; Thoughtfulness, Kindness and Creativity – so much positivity!! In the very first meeting we had with Leanne (Thought Foundation co-founder) we discussed having a market in their space and around six months later the first Thoughtful Night Market was actually happening!  We were so worried that nobody would turn up but had almost 300 people through the door and a queue to get in!!

Thought Foundation are a dream team to work with and having similar values means that the event has a strong identity that we are continuing to build. We love working with them! They are so pro-active and have so many ideas, that they are both a joy and inspiration to be around.

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Leanne and Gareth – Team Thought Foundation!

This is a silly question – because Thought Foundation is just a lush unique space – but I’m going to ask it anyway! Why did you pick Thought Foundation as a venue?

For anyone who hasn’t been to Thought Foundation then we always urge people to check it out. It is in Birtley, Gateshead and we LOVE the fact that a creative arts space and is thriving in this area.  The space is an ideal market venue as all traders are in the same area allowing for a unique atmosphere.  Thought Foundation already has a beautiful and eclectic shop (which is like having another beautiful stall in the place).  It is easy to get to being on a major bus route from both Durham and Newcastle and there is parking around the venue.  Thought Foundation epitomises everything the market stands for and is a unique blend of creativity, energy, warmth and thoughtfulness so it’s how could we not?!

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Thought Foundation

You’ve piqued my interest when you mention goody bags…. Tell us more!

The goody bags are EPIC. We ask every trader to provide a small number of items that are then distributed across the bags.  Traders are unbelievably generous and so the goody bags are not just full of flyers/business cards but host a range of beautiful bespoke goodies.  We have already made up the goody bags this year and yet again have been blown away by what we have been able to put in them! Think gin, jewellery, greetings cards, baubles – we are not surprised that people queue round the block to get their hands on them.  Each bag is hand lettered by us too.

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You had me a gin….Now this is a good question and something we all collectively champion….Why is it important to buy from independents at Christmas/In general?

Shopping from local independents feels good; not only will the individual maker be truly grateful that you have chosen them (and do a happy dance with each sale!!), you are also supporting the local economy and creative sector. When you buy independent, like at the Thoughtful Night Market, you will get the unique opportunity of being able to chat to the maker and ask questions that they can easily and happily answer.  They will often go the extra mile; for example by offering a beautifully packaged purchased or arranging to make something to your requirements. In buying independent, you are investing in the maker and contributing to developing a local talent helping to secure vibrant and diverse gift options. You are also securing a unique item that cannot be purchased widely on the high street – perfect for anyone wanting the wow factor.

We are passionate supporters of the movement towards ‘consciously consuming’ – shopping thoughtfully, investing in great quality items that are well crafted using quality resources by makers who know their supply chain. We have consistently found that small creative businesses often have ethical making and creating at their core.

Shopping indie is just all round more colourful and joyful than the alternative! Please do support what independents you can even if it is #just a card.

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Couldn’t agree with you more ladies! Right….Culture Vultures The Thoughtful Nightmare is just a lush and different way to spend a Saturday night. I’m itching to see what’s on offer and will be doing some live social media during the event as The Culture Vulture. I will share my haul of goodies purchased from all the lush stall holders too…..

And of course – look up The Crafthood for all their lush work! http://www.thecrafthood.co.uk

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.

Bank Of England Unveils Jane Austen Ten Pound Note

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!