I have just returned from a pilgrimage, a visit to Stanley Spencer's 'Holy Box', the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Hampshire. Sandham is not like most memorials. The images here are neither heroic nor horrific but depictions of ordinary scenes drawn from Spencer's time in Salonika during the first world war. It is extraordinary being in this space, surrounded by so much detail, pattern and life. Spencer plays his games with perspective and scale and the eye zooms in on minute detail, then out across expanses as it tries to take in this impossible to see whole, whole. He plays with the identity of materials too, so that the fabric of a cloak appears like carved stone and barbed wire could be a tangle of wildflower roots.
I hope the details below give some idea of its brilliance.
I love this story. I love the idea of shoes as an act of rebellion. It is extraordinary that in a culture where shoes are considered filthy and the throwing of a shoe, or showing of the sole, a deep insult, that a shoe with dirt in its sole (albeit hermetically sealed) is being purchased and worn. There is, of course, an exchange taking place here too. Professor Beverley Butler at UCL speaks beautifully about the amuletic object's capacity to collapse the space between person and object so that each takes on characteristics of the other. Perhaps the shoes take on a little of the exile's heartache, while the wearer feels a temporary repossession of home? Indeed, during my recent treatment for cancer, I received many magical objects from loved ones: a bag of 'worry dolls', a shawl that became a talismanic comfort blanket, a fossil, even a bottle of holy water, each of them offering such a temporary exchange.
For THE SHOEMAKER'S DESIGNS I made a series of drawings and embroidered pieces of a shoe, stitched them onto muslin and then into a concertina sketchbook. The concertina evokes the folds of a map, while some sections of the shoe sprout feathers, evoking dreams of escape and, in the interior of the sole, an embroidered sea connects shoe-locked wishes with the landlocked Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee in the former Palestine.
1. Raja Shehadeh, Language of War, Language of Peace: Palestine, Israel and the Search for Justice, Profile Books, 2015
Just to let you know that I have two portraits in the zine PANTHEON, due for publication in time for International Woman's Day on March 8th and featuring work by 12 artists, responding to the women who inspire them.
PANTHEON is run by the London-based commissioning platform, Wollstonecraft Presents. They are also holding a PANTHEON event on March 8th at the National Portrait Gallery, where a stellar panel speak about their own heroines. Speakers include Diane Abbott, Bonnie Greer, Phoebe Boswell and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
Tickets and details on the NPG website: https://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/friday-lates/international-womens-day-08032019
I have booked mine!
It's great to start the New Year with a feature on my work in Fearlessly Magazine. Fearlessly is a remarkable social enterprise, lead by Dr Eve Hepburn. It promotes Mental Health, Creativity, Feminism and Community in creative and inclusive ways. The invitation to contribute to the Communities edition of the magazine has allowed me to reflect at length on my fascination with the Medusa and her Sisters, those icons of feminine unacceptability who must live in exile from the civilised world. www.fearlessly.co.uk/rebelles-and-outcasts-1Click here to read the full article.
'Take an overview of current discussion on mental health and gender politics crises, the same conclusions tend to emerge. We need to learn to soften our judgements of ourselves and others, we need to properly interrogate received norms of acceptability, we need to become less ashamed.
To this list of sensible goals, I would add the practical advice that we need to be more playful. No one makes these kinds of changes if they get swamped in dogma. We need our creativity to kick in.'
Rebelles & Outcasts, Natalie Sirett, Fearlessly Magazine January & February Edition, 2019
In continued exploration of cultural perceptions of women, I am slowly making a series of little icons, painted in oils on aluminium and drawn with pen and ink. They are portraits with additional symbolic elements. American civil rights campaigner Angela Davies is shown bursting forth from the ground, a bright flower with radical roots. The petals surrounding reclusive poet, Emily Dickinson are made of her poems written on tiny scraps of envelopes, discovered in her room after her death. Given her current iconic status, you could argue there’s no need for another image of Frida Kahlo. However, while touching on her celebrated ‘look’ and style, this painting also celebrates Kahlo's love of symbolism and, in the votive offering of a baby in the top left of picture, honours her unrequited longing for a child.
In this series I am also unearthing and aiming to rehabilitate some female 'monsters'. Baba Yaga, a typical witch/crone stereotype from Russian folklore lives deep in the forest in a hut that stands on a chicken's leg. Children were warned to be good or Baba Yaga would steal them, eat them and add their bones to her garden fence. Reflecting on issues of body shaming and the prevalence of self-harm in adolescent girls and women today, it seems to me that, two millennia on, we are still paying for The Fall, which makes Eve the woman most in need of rehabilitation. Here she is in all her glorious, curious sensuality.
* Illuminate Herstory: https://www.facebook.com/events/1202726563192895/
** Religion and the Decline of Magic https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Religion_and_the_Decline_of_Magic.html?id=yQwSAQAAIAAJ