Sculptures, installations, and murals are some of the types of public art that can liven up a neighbourhood and bring colour to bleak urban spaces. Aside from its decorative and entertainment value, public art can also be used to raise awareness andMore
Most people will agree that art and politics go together hand in hand. Historically, art has been often used as a commentary on politics. From centuries-old paintings of famous battles and wars, to modern age craftivism and political murals, art has and still is an influential medium for communicating political and social ideas and an alternative way for people to engage in protest.
Even in our digital age, art and politics still share a close relationship. The invention of computers and the internet has enabled many to create and disseminate art at a scale that would have previously been thought unimaginable. The rise of social media has facilitated a new sphere for people, especially young people, to engage with issues and ideas in an accessible way for most.
Meg Mcwilliam is a fashion student from Darlington, who creates vibrant collages in response to political affairs and social issues in the UK and around the world, with the hope of reaching out to the younger generations and breaking the wall of political apathy. In this article, Meg tells us why she creates political art and why it is crucial to communicate political ideas and issues to the public.
What motivated you to create political art?
I was getting really frustrated and angry at the government and how they were dealing with things. I didn’t know how to express this at first and it was quite overwhelming. One day I thought I’d make some art and it really popped off. That’s when I realised perhaps this was the way forward.
What is your creative process?
I get really, really annoyed and just completely vent all my ideas onto a page. I always try and add a comedic satirical element as I don’t take myself seriously and don’t want to. I think it’s important to not lose yourself in all of this shit the Tories have created because then I would be so dull.
Which of your pieces are your favourite or mean the most to you?
The “Snatching milk and meals” piece does mean a lot to me as it’s the piece that started it all, so it’ll always hold a special place in my heart. Another piece that means a lot to me is “stop killing black trans women” as it’s a message that saddens me every time. I found it deeply upsetting to find out that the average life expectancy of a black transgender woman is only 35 [years], I feel as though not enough people pay attention to this statistic and it’s honestly saddening.
What do you think about the current state of UK politics?
It’s an absolute shambles, I’m honestly scared we’re going to turn into a police state. The way the pandemic has been handled has really highlighted how evil and greedy they are. Everything that’s coming to light now is a direct result of 10 years of Tory rule.
I hate that politics is seen as a privilege to be involved in.
Disengagement has always been an issue in politics, and a tough one to fight. A 2019 audit by the Hansard Society paints a pessimistic picture of political engagement in the UK. It found that 47% of the British public feel they have no influence at all over national decision-making. Compared to 2018, more people say that they are not interested in politics at all and do not know anything about it.
Furthermore, a 2021 parliament briefing paper highlighted that young people in particular are less likely to register to vote and participate political activities, with women and ethnic minorities also at the lower end of the political engagement scale. When asked about this issue, Meg’s answers echo the above findings and sentiment.
As a young person, do you feel like you have a voice when it comes to politics and your rights? Do you feel heard?
Meg: I feel heard by my generation but the older generation not so much, I feel as though they see us younger lot as whiney when in reality, they’ve fucked us all over majorly and we’re all suffering from it now. The government don’t listen to us either – it’s like us vs the world at the moment, but I feel that my generation could be the start of change.
What do you hope to achieve through your art?
Meg: I really want to get the younger generation interested in politics, I know for me the long articles can be really boring and complicated. I hate that politics is seen as a privilege to be involved in and I believe if it’s simply reserved for the middle class, we will have no change at all. It’s very important for a diverse range of people to be involved and to understand.
What change would you like to see, on a political and societal level, in the next few years?
Meg: First of all, get the Tories out now! And yes, I mean Starmer too. I think settling for someone just because they’re a better alternative is a bit of a stupid logic. Why should I settle for someone whose morals don’t align with mine? I think Labour could be a really good party if it wasn’t full of red conservatives, transphobes, and “#girlbosses”. I’m hoping in the future things may get better as a lot of my generation is left wing and do want progressive change, so don’t let me down please!
Is there anything else you would like to share about your art (or anything else)?
I’m hoping in the next few months to sell some more prints to sell to charity, especially my collaboration with Peggy’s (the bar) which I’ll be donating half the proceeds to an anti sexual-violence charity.
What advice would you give other young people who are thinking about engaging in activism using art?
Do it! Honestly not only is it therapeutic but it’s a good and more relevant way to spread the word especially with how popular social media is. I think using art as a form on activism is also accessible to people who perhaps don’t feel comfortable protesting or can’t and can overcome that barrier between having a voice but also not having to go to extreme lengths to get heard.
Meg Mcwilliam does lot of work for the Terrance Higgins trust which is an AIDS charity. She often has pieces for sale on her website (digital copies), and she donates proceeds to the charity. You can take a look at her website at https://www.megmcart.com/ and purchase her work online. You can also find Meg on Instagram at @megmcart
Marie Kondo, an organising consultant and TV personality, is famous for her belief that tidying up can change your life for the better. Her philosophy focuses on looking at whether the objects you own “spark joy”, and if they don’t you must get rid of them. The idea is, that through decluttering your living space, you declutter your mind of the ties to the past, and make way for the future. In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, Kondo argues that we ought to only keep the things that speak to our heart and discard the rest without further deliberation, but what if absolutely everything we own speaks to our heart? What if every object we own is full of meaning, value, and joy?
Minimalism vs Maximalism
Most people are familiar with minimalism, whether it’s thanks to the movement’s proponents such as Marie Kondo, or simply because they find it aesthetically pleasing. Not as many people are familiar with minimalism’s polar opposite, maximalism. But what exactly is maximalism? To put simply, it is the aesthetic of excess. It is finding beauty and comfort in environments full of stuff. Clashing patterns, vibrant colours, lots and lots of art and trinkets. More is always more in maximalism.
This month, we spoke to someone who believes that surrounding yourself with all the things you love and forgetting about decluttering is not only the key to happiness, but also a way to be more environmentally conscious. Let us introduce Sue Kreitzman – artist, author, and aficionado of colours.
Before Sue became an artist, she worked as a successful food-writer and TV chef. In the late nineties, she started experimenting with art and never stopped. Since then, she has been adorning her home with the vibrantly coloured art she makes. In this interview, we asked Sue about her artistic methods and the relationship between her environment(s) and happiness.
One of your most memorable quotes is ‘Don’t wear beige – it might kill you.’ Does this also apply to the environment you live in?
Indeed it does. I do not understand ‘neutral’ environments; I certainly do not understand minimalism. Blandness is frightening. Put me into a beige room, or make me wear bland unadorned clothing, and I become a brain fogged ancient crone. Colour gives life, keeps passions alive, restores a sense of youth and vigour.
And minimalism? Our collections are the glue that holds our lives together, narrators of our passage through the world, the totems that define and protect us. Marie Kondo, get thee behind me.
You are famous for your assemblage art, which you create by repurposing things you’ve referred to as ‘junk’ in many interviews. It strikes me as an environmentally-friendly way to approach art. Was environmental sustainability in your art a conscious choice?
I am an obsessive collector, and have been since childhood. Pavement treasure, car boot finds, little bits of this and that, broken jewellery, old toys, charity shop and car boot discoveries, flea market stuff! I am fascinated by the detritus of years past. Mining the past, repurposing discarded things into new and exciting works of art and apparel seems to me a noble way of living. Over the years, I became aware of the environmental impact of what I was doing. Nowadays, assemblage art and collage have become quite a thing. I think I was a pioneer!
There is a growing body of research which supports the link between art and psychological wellbeing. Do you personally feel that surrounding yourself with art improves your wellbeing?
Art keeps me sane, gets me out of bed in the morning, and allows me to live my life without spiralling into depression. Making art, and living with art is the most powerful form of self medication there is. If you think you have no talent for drawing, painting and sculpting, you are fooling yourself. Go to that place where you were a child, drawing your mum, your house, your dog…start there. You will be amazed where it takes you. Is it good, is it bad? What does that even mean? No one is judging you. Art is life changing. We all need psychological buffers against the madness of the word, this year or any year. Art is always the answer.
In your quarantine video, you said you loved being locked up in paradise and you kept busy by making art. Would you have been able to stay positive and productive if you had to isolate in a different environment?
I am lucky enough to live in what I term an ‘Art House’. My flat overflows with art created by me and by my beloved friends; colour leaps from all walls, nooks and crannies; and my backyard shed is crammed with art supplies including the juiciest, most fascinating junk imaginable.
The quarantine enabled me to make stuff at all hours of the day and night. Dozens of drawing and neck shrines; embellished shoes and painted clothing; my stash of paper bags turned into masks; and lush portraits of imaginary Goddesses. Groceries were left at my front door, and all social life was conducted on Social Media. Most of my friends are artists, so our messages to each other consisted of ‘Look what I made today!’ A magnificently cloistered way of artistic life. Pure bliss. Would this have been possible in another environment? Highly unlikely.
“Our collections are the glue that holds our lives together, narrators of our passage through the world, the totems that define and protect us. Marie Kondo, get thee behind me.“
What about your clothes? In a way, clothing is a ‘wearable environment’ that we take wherever we go. What is your perfect ‘wearable environment’?
I am surrounded by colour and art. The art is deeply personal, and – in many ways – quite spiritual. The colour is necessary to my well being and mental health. When I exit my flat, I can’t bear to leave any of it behind, so I wrap myself in it. I emerge into the outside world a collage, a walking work of art, a perambulating gallery. All my outfits are perfect wearable art environments. As a freelance artist of a certain age, I don’t have a 9 – 5 job, I don’t work in an office or a bank, I can do whatever I please. And I please to wear art all the time.
I remember reading somewhere that you encourage people to buy second-hand or directly from the designers. What is your clothes-shopping process? Do you ever buy (or have you ever bought) clothing from fast-fashion brands?
I never buy fashion brands, fast or otherwise. I source my fabrics from African traders, flea market sellers, local markets, vintage things found in charity shops. I design the garments myself, and a tailor in my neighbourhood stitches them up for me.
I support artists, artisans, small businesses, market traders and local businesses. I commission lots of jewellery and clothing from artist friends. I haunt my favourite flea markets. I want every cent I spend on clothing and adornment to make a difference. I want to look fantastic, and I want everything I wear to have meaning.
The one exception is my feet. I wear crocs. I’ve worn them since they were first invented. In every colour! I (and my friends) embellish them. They get painted, or encrusted with doodads and collectables. From top to toe, I am a sight to behold.
As you can see, Marie Kondo’s philosophy doesn’t work for everyone. For some, decluttering does not lead to joy. It leads to cold and empty spaces without any identity.
Maximalism teaches us to surround ourselves with the things we love, no matter the quantity. It teaches us that minimalism is overrated, and that it is okay to enjoy cluttered environments. Above all, it teaches us that we shouldn’t feel ashamed of the way we like to live and exist within our environments. Sometimes more is exactly what we need.
As the UK approaches the sixth month post the momentous day that saw lockdown measures put in place, we are finding ourselves gradually reconnecting with our old freedoms and perks of a ‘normal’ life.
The last few months saw our society go through a multitude of hardships that are all but over, even as we ease our way back into our old lives. Many have suffered due to the coronavirus, not only physically but financially and mentally, and the recovery process is certain to take a long time for many. One way a community of crafts enthusiasts has been dealing with the pressures of the pandemic is through crafts projects such as the Quarantine Quilt.
Although there are multiple different Quarantine Quilt projects happening around the UK, today we will focus on one by Significant Seams, a Devon organisation devoted to ‘strengthening the seams of community using textiles and craft’, who started the quilt project in response to the way Coronavirus has affected everyone’s lives.
The effects of the virus and isolation have had a profound effect on society, creating feelings of loneliness and anxiety across all ages. The emotional distress that the pandemic has imposed on society has triggered a focus on well-being, which for a lot of us means being able to socialise with our friends and families and reconnect with our communities. The Significant Seams’ quilt project offers a way for individuals to engage with others without leaving their homes by making patches for one of the many community projects across the nation, that will eventually be sewn into quilts.
“Strengthening the seams of community using textiles and craft.”
Image: Patchwork by Significant Seams.
Significant Seams invites people to “send stitched words or designs which reflect their feelings and responses to the pandemic”, aiming to see how remote interaction like this project can benefit health and well-being. As the WHO report suggests, there could be potential value of art and craft in preventing and managing mental illness and overall wellness, which makes projects like the quilt a hopeful option for self-therapy. Individuals are encouraged to make a 5inch high x 7 inch wide rectangle patch containing a word or a phrase for ‘The Wall of Words’ quilt, and residents of the South-West are invited to make a patch in any design that symbolises the emotional responses and experiences related to the pandemic. The quilt will be exhibited online until circumstances allow for a physical exhibition to take place.
For the most vulnerable high-risk groups who must continue to shield from the virus, creative activities such as the Quarantine Quilt can provide a way to voice their fears and frustration, and help them feel they are part of a community who has gone through shared experiences together.
Craft For A Cause
The Quarantine Quilt is a great example of the popular practice of craftivism. Simply put, craftivism is a type of activism that uses crafts such as needlework to communicate an (often political) message. A lot of the craftivism around incorporates elements of feminism, socialism, and environmentalism.
One of the most well-known craftivist groups is the London based Craftivist Collective who have been changing laws, policies, and minds since 2008. Founded by an experienced campaigner, Sarah Corbett, the group aims to bring the protest to the home sphere, and “encourage others be the positive change they wish to see in the world“.
Craftivism makes it possible for everyone around the world to engage with activism without leaving their doorstep, and it fosters a sense of solidarity and community which are much needed in our current turbulent times.
You can find out more about The Quarantine Quilt and how to get involved on their website: www.thequarantinequiltproject.org
Significant Seams: www.significantseams.org.uk
Craftivist Collective: www.craftivist-collective.com
Featured image by Dinh Pham on Unsplash.
Sculptures, installations, and murals are some of the types of public art that can liven up a neighbourhood and bring colour to bleak urban spaces. Aside from its decorative and entertainment value, public art can also be used to raise awareness and start a dialogue within a community.
This month, we have spoken with two mural artists to get a better insight into public art, and its various roles in communities.
Italian muralist Francesco Camillo Giorgino, known as Millo, has worked on murals in multiple countries all over the world. His murals feature people interacting with each other in a caring way, set against a black and white background of neighbourhood streets. Before committing to murals, Millo experimented on other types of medium such as paper, canvases, and doors. “In the end, the murals were a crazy challenge. It happened at an unexpected moment, but from that moment I never quit.” He told us.
There is a central theme of community and friendliness running through his work. When asked what he hopes people take away from his murals, he told us “When I create my murals I hope to donate a piece of peace, a deep breath in the chaos of our everyday life.” Amounting evidence argues that murals can indeed bring a piece of peace to communities. Public art such as murals has been linked to improved mental health in society, as well as cultural and economic benefits. “I focus on projects that aim to renovate places. This means that most of the time I’m painting in peripheral, forgotten areas of cities around the globe.” Mural art can turn a grey urban landscape into an art gallery of its own kind. It makes art accessible to disinvested communities, while promoting a sense of identity and belonging.
“When I create my murals, I hope to donate a piece of peace, a deep breath in the chaos of our everyday life.”
Writing about his 2019 mural, Wish, Millo describes “My wall stands for this, for a connection that cannot be cut, a thin red line that links and ties all of us despite the difficulties, despite the twines, we definitely work better when we are not alone.” Each mural is different but there is an underlying theme of connection between the residents and their surroundings which often make it to the murals’ composition. “I do really care about where my wall is located and how my work of art can interact with the place.”
When asked about his favourite painting experience, Millo quipped “Actually, I don’t have a favourite experience. Each wall, each place is an experience. But, as an Italian I do love when people pass me the coffee from their windows while I’m painting!”
Emily Eldridge is an American artist and illustrator. She has also painted a series of murals around the globe. Like Millo, she puts a lot of thought into the location of her murals and their effect on the local neighbourhood. “For example, the mural “The Thread That Ties Us Together” was painted in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin, which is a diverse area with a rich history. I really thought about how to best represent the people groups in that neighborhood and imagined how locals would hopefully see themselves represented positively in the mural. Although there are many differences in the cultures and people groups there, everyone shares the neighborhood and everyone belongs there, which is “The Thread” tying everyone together.” There is a strong similarity between Emily’s The Thread That Ties Us Together and Millo’s Wish. Both murals weave a reflection of the local community into the art through symbolism. Both allude to individuals being connected to each other by a unifying force, a thread of shared interests and values holding the community together.
Emily believes that murals benefit community in many ways, “(…) they serve as a talking point, they add color to a neighborhood, and they can certainly elevate the status of an “ugly” area or building, beautifying a space in a unique way!” Apart from being a beautiful addition to a neighbourhood, murals can stimulate important conversations. For instance, the mural Trabajadoras, or Women at Work was painted in La Rambla (Córdoba, Spain) which is recognised for its pottery. “The mural celebrates the women who make up the backbone of the industry there, yet are often overlooked as essential to the local economy.” Public art such as Trabajadoras serves as social commentary that can force people to reflect on the issues affecting their community. “The project also aims to bring high level art projects to the people of the countryside, to share culture and beauty equally with non-urban dwellers.”
Whilst “bringing art” to the countryside and disinvested neighbourhoods is a good thing, studies have shown it must be approached in a way that engages the community and reflects their interests in order to have a positive effect on the residents. When controlled by the wrong people, public art can be catalyst for gentrification which puts the original residents at an economic and social disadvantage, such as raised rents and house prices that lead to the residents’ displacement. The steps involved in creating public art must be democratic, or else they risk unwelcome socio-economic changes.
Special thanks to Emily and Millo for participating in the interview and making this article happen!
You can find the artists’ websites and social media links below. Be sure to take a look at their other beautiful work!