The Feminist Artists Normalising Female Sexuality through Provocative Art

The Feminist Artists Normalising Female Sexuality through Provocative Art

At University, my dissertation was titled, ‘Sex in Art: The Taboo subject’. I spoke mainly about reclaiming erotic art from the male gaze and therefore normalising female sexuality and sexual pleasure. I noticed societies outrage when a women took control of her body and explored her sexuality on her own terms, and it sparked a fire in me thats been increasing ever since! I find it interesting (and intensely annoying) when women are sexualised for the male gaze in pornography, art history and everyday marketing, but as soon as women take autonomy over their bodies and openly create erotic art or show a nipple or God forbid dare to speak about what they enjoy during sex, some people simply cannot handle it.

Helen Beard is an incredibly talented painter, who puts sex centre stage. At the core of her drawings is female pleasure: orgasms, vulvas and breasts, masturbation, sex-toys and intimacy — the more we normalise it, embrace it, write about it, create about it, fight for it, the more power we give to ourselves and women around the world. Pleasure is another space for us to champion our wants and needs and have our voices be heard. Seeing a vulva in a piece of art can spark people to feel uncomfortable, when instead, we should only either feel completely neutral to it, since it’s literally just a part of our body, and/or we should feel empowered.

A position of trust, Oil on canvas, 160 × 160 × 4 cm
Take good care of yourself, Oil on canvas, 180 × 210 × 4 cm

What I’ve noticed over the years is that finding artwork and artists that celebrate bodies in all shapes and sizes, colours and conditions, is truly vital in order to keep sane in a world that pretends a plus size is a 12. Alongside this, I’ve learnt that a womens voice should be suppressed when it comes to enjoying and exploring sex and/with their bodies. This tragic lack of representation meant that I struggled to accept my own body throughout all of my teens. I was always a curvier figure, a darker body-haired one, a shorter one, and its quite literally taken me until my early twenties to begin to accept myself and begin enjoying my body.

I truly believe a lot of this unrequited shame was because of the lack of confident larger bodies around me, which all stemmed from, obviously, the media. Only the societal-standard beauties were in my magazines, and if they were to ever look provocative I would slut-shame them, because of my traditional/brain washed beliefs that a women shouldn’t show her body off to men like that. I didn’t know then that she can actually do whatever the hell she wants, and quite frankly it doesn’t matter who it’s for, as long as she’s feeling fantastic and in control. 

With this lack of understanding and openness comes a lack of confidence in having control over your body and using it how you want, when you want, and with who you want. And when you do try and use it for the first time, you are left with shame. This is an extremely common and damaging cycle I want to help break! As Florence Given has taught me, whilst we are being objectified and sexualised from the patriarchy, I hope we’re aware that simultaneously men are making women hate each other, so we don’t realise our power and we continue to be victims.

We have been taught to have an automatic negative reaction to other women being geniuses and making money from taking ownership of their bodies. When other people are making money from sexualising us on the front cover of magazines, when we are constantly objectified from the capitalist, patriarchal society, why AN EARTH should we not turn it around and use it to our advantage. I have grown up with a very negative view of sex workers due to the beliefs of those surrounding me, but it’s people like FKA Twigs that have helped me to understand how wrong this naivety is.

I follow singer, pole-dance & previous sex worker and activist FKA Twigs on Instagram, and she highlighted some artists discussing sex workers and aims for us to have the same realisation she did; all bodies are worthy of respect. I am so thankful for the people who tell their stories and speak about their abuse and maltreatment, since without these powerful and strong women, there would be no revelation that we do not have to feel about our bodies the way society wants us too. They are beautiful and worthy of respect, and they are not up for anybodies discussion.

@exotic.cancer

Exotic Cancer is an artist who also celebrates diversity and creates sex positive illustrations. She says on her Instagram, ‘We need to speak up against discrimination and injustice. We need to come together and support one another with empathy and compassion. She creates illustrations based off the discrimination from the men who go to strip shows, always showcases women who do not conform to shaving their bodies and she openly showcases womens sexuality and periods and unapologetically has dildos and pleasure tools surrounding her body. She basically represents queens, and we should all follow suit.  

Platforms like Instagram are giving a new generation of women, a space to explore their sexuality on their own terms. Even before the #MeToo movement sparked long overdue discussions about sexual abuse, slut shaming, a woman’s right to choose, and the need for more consensual attitudes when it comes to sex, these erotic artists set about reclaiming and rewriting their own stories — using social media to share them. Overall, i’m super bored of people not being okay with women celebrating themselves however the hell they want. And I think these artists are going to help change the game, and I’m really excited about it. 

The Art of Grief

The Art of Grief

I wrote this blog in Caffè Nero on my stepmother’s 51st birthday on 23rd July 2020. I’ve struggled to post this since, because it acts as a diary entrance rather than a blog. But, I know the Art of Grieving is a slow and traumatic one filled with many different stages, and this feels like a positive next step. My step-mother died on 5th December 2019, two days before I was supposed to return home from my travels in Thailand. She was so excited for me to go travelling, and I regretfully didn’t keep her updated with my travels because I was going to tell her everything when I came home and could do it in person. Obviously that day never happened.

Tracey died suddenly from a heart attack and it’s been a loss thats truly affected me in ways I didn’t realise it would. I’ve spent the last couple of months struggling to get my head around the concept of death. It has left me with heart palpitations and anxiety, staring at the painting on my wall that my Father wanted me to have that was hers. 

Fabian Perez was her favourite artist in the world. For her 50th birthday, my Father brought her a painting of two salsa dancers (Tango an San Telmo). She exchanged it for a painting of a young brunette girl, standing in her nightgown on a Parisian-style balcony staring out (Balcony at Buenos Aires X). I imagined Tracey saw the woman in the painting as settled, independent and calm. Her and my Father were breaking up, and I think it was poignant to her – I believe the painting might have acted as a chance for Tracey to see a potential future version of herself. To me, at this moment, the girl in the painting looks extremely sorrowful and longing for something that is not there.

This piece of art has become extremely important in my grieving — it is the first thing I see everyday when I wake up, and therefore allows me to determine how fragile I am feeling that day depending on my reaction to it. It is a piece that I know I will interpret differently throughout the upcoming stages of grief I am going to go through.

Tango en San Telmo by Fabian Perez
Balcony at Buenos Aires X by Fabian Perez

Over espresso martinis, Tracey tearfully explained to me how she was worried that the up-coming break-up with my Dad would result in her not being able to be a part of my future. Her haunting last words to me were, ‘I can’t explain the amount of dreams I had for me, you and Josh (my brother)’. This painting will be able to  travel with me throughout my entire life, watch me grow and move into new houses and have new adventures and see my bad days and fantastic days, when Tracey no longer can. It can be a part of the dreams lost between Tracey and I.

It reminds me of the healing power of art, the incredible bond a piece of art can allow you to have with someone that has passed, and the intense way art is linked with grieving. I now have a painting that will link me to her forever, since it is only her and I that have ever owned this piece. It will always allow me to explore my emotions, understand what stage I’m at in the processing of my grief and forever remind me of her, and how much she would also want me to be the content, settled and happy girl she saw in the painting.

She was anything but the wicked step-mother. When she found out my favourite dessert was Tiramisu, she baked it for me every birthday and let me have it for breakfast the next day. She was persistent on telling me to pursue writing. When I was being a brat about spending New Years Eve with my grandparents in Scotland, Tracey made it the fun, adventurous trip it turned out to be. She was EXACTLY the same dress and shoe size as me and my constant asking to borrow her clothes never seemed to annoy her. Tracey managed to build the relationship between me and my Father, and I owe what we have now, to her. Family was her priority, and very quickly, we were family. 

Today, on her birthday, both me and my brother have been given some great job opportunities. We both knew it was Tracey. She cared so deeply about us both loving our careers and being happy and secure. What are the chances that on her birthday, both of our lives change for the better?! Today I wanted to write an Ode to her and Fabian Perez, to say thank you and to keep moving forward with my healing process. So, thank you, Tracey, for the conversations and boat trips I will remember for this lifetime and the next. Missing you everyday. 

How Art and Poetry has improved my Mental Health throughout Coronavirus

How Art and Poetry has improved my Mental Health throughout Coronavirus

Reflecting on the last few months, Covid-19 has created a unity in our anxiety. I feel almost everyone I have spoken too has accepted their roller coaster of emotions, uncertainty has fuelled existing mental health problems whilst starting the fire for others. Personally, within my circle, ‘up and down’ has been part of everyone’s vocabulary regarding the explanation of their feelings, and before, this phrase was mostly spoken amongst those circle of friends who would regard that as the classic, normal life.

I really do think these conversations being spoken about more freely will have a positive impact on our future and the way mental health is viewed. Hopefully, people who had struggled understanding mental health issues before are now more sensitive and empathetic towards them, even if they’re still not understood fully (which is fine, as long as they aren’t shamed), meaning less suppression of our feelings and a more open expression of them. 

So, reading literature on well-being has been vital for me when taking care of my mental health during this pandemic, alongside following illustrators on Instagram who speak openly about how they’re feeling, and who are discussing the complexities of experiencing a full spectrum of emotions in a world complicated by social media, where we are constantly confronted with images and tales of seeming perfection, happiness, and “success”. Following people with this mindset is SO vital rather than opening up Instagram to find yourself following people who make you feel upset or overwhelmed from toxic content.

Allowing yourself to feel your feelings without judgement has been something i’ve needed to remind myself of these last few months. I constantly need reminding that it is okay to feel hopeless and exhausted. It is important to set boundaries and enforce them, without feeling like you have to justify or explain your feelings, they are valid always always always no matter how little you may think they sound compared to other things going on. Make sure you communicate these feelings on your own terms and always hold space for your personal needs.

These are the poets and artists who have been my light through the darkness; 

Rupi Kaur; 

“in the darkest times I’ve seen us become our brightest. standing on balconies and singing to the empty streets below us. we manage to crack jokes in the saddest times. put the vulnerable before us. dance in hospitals to keep ourselves going. risk our bodies to heal the sick. sometimes. it takes a crisis to remember our lives depend on each other. we will end up nowhere if we try to go it alone. and while people are losing each other. and people are saving each other. people are also getting to work. as the world wakes to uncertainty. canvases that sat collecting dust for the past fives years are finally being stretched. books are being written. inventions are falling into little heads everywhere cause there is nothing better to do with this time. than be useful. and I can’t think of a more beautiful way to pull ourselves together. i don’t think there’s a more human way to survive” 

https://www.instagram.com/rupikaur_/?hl=en

Charley Cox; 

I urge you to buy this book by one of my favourite poets Charly Cox. She explores coming-of-age: the pain and beauty of love, the relief and the agony of turning from girl to woman, the isolation of an untethered mind and the power and subjugation of the body.

@Normanarteb; 

“you are powerful. getting up and getting ready is powerful. Replying to that text that made you anxious is powerful, acknowledging your feelings and thoughts is powerful. Talking about your mental health is powerful. Not being ready to talk about your mental health is powerful. Asking for help is powerful. Fighting with your own mind everyday is powerful. Talking about your mental health is not a weakness, nothing about you is weak” 

@ambivalentlyyours

These artists have reminded me how important it is for us to sit with, identify and explore our feelings as they arise. They’ve reminded me to look for something positive in each day. It’s rather cliche, but this pandemic has truly made me realise the beauty in the small things in life. This world can be incredible, and suddenly the sunsets are richer, the morning cuddles are longer (with someone else or with your self we are all about self-love here) and the desserts are tastier because we have slowed down.

I am often worried that I am not in the place I was supposed to be at aged 23, but the journey can never be planned and right here, where I am now, is completely okay. Keep control of this mantra before the panic takes control of you. When everything is uncertain, everything important becomes clear. Let this be the case for you, and lets realise the importance of health, love and happiness, whatever and whoever gives you these feelings. And always hold on to hope. 

I am absolutely not saying mental health issues can simply be treated through looking at art and reading. I wanted to remind you of the importance of creating a safe space, where you are surrounded by others who can understand you, and during this pandemic this has been great to do through artists on Instagram or books, when friends or therapist’s could not be sat next to us. This is a way that has helped me, but please always consider getting professional help if you’ve tried different ways and it is not getting better.

We must celebrate Black Artists louder than ever before

We must celebrate Black Artists louder than ever before

So this blog is a little more serious than usual, but I just NEED to say my piece, especially now I can feel the BLM movement being slowly less spoken about on social media. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve felt overwhelmed, I’ve felt shocked, I’ve felt an incredibly deep sadness and frustration, and all of these feelings have shown me the depth of my white privilege. I have only been able to have these feelings due to the fact my skin colour has never played a part in my hardship and I have never experienced my life chances being obstructed because of my race. Black people are not suddenly feeling shocked and saddened!

I’ve only just learnt (from the documentary 13th on Netflix, I urge you to watch as it was pivotal in my education of Black history) that America attempts to call their legalised slavery system a criminal justice system, and it was only last week I heard about the Windrush scandal for the first time in my life. My white privilege has allowed me to believe these systems have been dying out and we’ve been making progress, when in fact we are surrounded by police brutality, movements trying and failing to be heard, and unarmed black people murdered every single day, whilst racism sits embedded in the structure.

I want to change this narrative. With structural racism resulting in an overall lack of diversity within the arts, it is essential to support underrepresented artists. The art world has a significant social and cultural impact on our attitudes and understandings towards other people. Despite this, I worry that it predominantly supports a system which favours a whitewashed narrative of history. We’ve all heard of Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Tracey Emin, Picasso, etc, because they have impacted and changed our history. During the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights and the Black is Beautiful movements, many African-American painters rejected and redefined traditional standards of beauty and vitalised the black consciousness, speaking of issues of racism, feminism, violence, slavery, and exploitation. They have impacted and changed our history, yet, there is a lacking of black artists as household names.

I’ve always felt confident that the art industry is a place of expression, championing the different, but we cannot advocate systematic change and allyship until we actively promote long-term inclusivity and diversity. Our history has been rooted in white supremacy, and it is hugely important to encourage and assist unheard voices, since it is the key to improving our future. Here is a very small list of some incredibly talented and powerful Black artists that I believe should be household names; 

Jean-Paul Basquiat 

Basquiat was a poet, musician, and graffiti prodigy in late-1970s New York. Associated with Neo-expression, he drew subjects from his Caribbean heritage

Jacob Lawrence

During the 50s and 60s, Jacob Lawrence was one of the most important artists of the 20th century, widely renowned for his modernist depictions of everyday life as well as epic narratives of African American history and historical figures

Barkley L. Hendricks

Barkley Hendricks was a contemporary American painter who made pioneering contributions to black portraiture and conceptualism in the 70s, documenting the African American figure as a cultural and commodified phenomenon

Laura Wheeler Waring

Laura Wheeler Waring was an American artist and educator, best known for her paintings she made during the Harlem Renaissance.

Faith Ringgold

 An Artist and Activist, Faith Ringgold’s known for her protests to diversify museums decades ago and portraying the civil rights movement from a female perspective in the 70s

Emma Amos

Portraying the Black middle-class domestic life, Amos challenged racism and sexism during the 60s

Mickalene Thomas

Thomas is an artist and photographer who’s art is always political and promotes radical inclusivity, introducing the black female body into art history to change the narrative

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a Nigerian-born visual artist working in Los Angeles, California. Akunyili Crosby’s art negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, exposing the challenges of occupying these two worlds

All I hope is that someone reading this learns a little bit more than what they already know, or it acts as a reading that empowers someone to feel able to unapologetically and vocally help change the narrative too. After admitting accountability, I struggled to have the difficult discussions I knew were vital for change, because I felt uneducated. I have often struggled to articulate myself properly in debates (to be honest I don’t see how this topic is even up for a debate but let’s move on), and would introvert at the most necessary times I should have been shouting from the rooftops. Whilst I understand you if this is also happening to you, we must realise that we have to keep trying, since we cannot continue like this.

White supremacy will not die until White people see this is a White issue we need to solve rather than a Black issue we need to empathise with. I wonder how often history will have to repeat itself before we choose to tackle the underlying problem! And please let’s not stop wanting to improve ourselves now, I’ve learnt so much from friends Instagram posts of documentary suggestions, black writers and book suggestions, MP emails, petitions, suggested phrasings of how to have difficult discussions with family members and friends, etc. It was from social media that I learnt how to tell someone the vital difference between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, so please do not let anyone make you feel like you’re jumping on the band wagon this time, we’re educating ourselves and each other on this uprising of justice and we must continue. 

The scary first psoriasis blog

The scary first psoriasis blog

My name is Francesca Allen, I am a 21 year old student, and I was diagnosed with psoriasis in 2015. I had a tiny flare up that ended very speedily after seeing a skin specialist, and I was convinced that was all I would ever have to worry about. Skip forward 3 years later to January 2018 and anDSCN0667 unexpected and unwanted flare up of psoriasis covered my hands, arms, stomach, back, legs, bum and feet. I had never experienced ‘the itch’, and on a bad day, the clothes rubbing against my psoriasis caused such a strong burning sensation I had to scratch, making it bleed and burn further until I ultimately wished my skin would just fall off to get rid of the pain. I often couldn’t sleep because it felt like my skin was on fire, until I itched to have two minutes of satisfaction before the burning intensifies for another half an hour because I’d damaged it further. After being stuck in this vicious cycle for a while, I embarked on one of many trips to my local GP. 

3/4 doctors said to me that they didn’t know much about psoriasis, and I was prescribed eczema creams and suggestions to go to Amsterdam and buy cannabis chocolate (didn’t know whether to laugh or cry), and I would leave every appointment more disheartened than the previous one, spending my last £8.50 from my student loan on some random cream that I know would probably just sting to put on and not help at all. I can’t even remember the names of the creams cause they were different each time and I got so frustrated I often wouldn’t even put them on. At this stage, the psoriasis had moved onto my scalp and face, and dealing with depression myself anyway, I shoved my psoriasis to one side because if I thought about it or let it affect me I knew I wouldn’t get through my therapy course. Whilst I was prioritising my mental health, my darling Mother (who reads every book on alternative medication for psoriasis and gives me different tablets each week) went to a psoriasis convention and discovered Aloe Vera creams and drinks. I drank the juice crying (do not recommend), but the aloe vera cream was so soothing on my face and did seem to help the redness and itchiness. 

At this point I felt there was no end. Summer was approaching fast, and I could no longer hide underneath baggy clothes. For people struggling on their journey of self-love with Psoriasis, summer is not just soaking up the sun in your bikinis having pimms with the gals, it’s a giant fear of those days where your skin is gonna have to be on show. I realised I did, and still do not want to, have to hide my skin in every photo taken and be sweating in long sleeve tops and trousers for the next couple of months. I had finished my course of therapy for my depression, and was suddenly very aware of the look of my skin like never before. Because of this, I started following Instagram pages of other sufferers promoting their journey, which was important for me since whilst all the model’s I follow on Instagram promote stretch marks and curves which is vitally important (and has helped me accept my own) they seem to all still have glowing, smooth skin. I then was lucky enough to meet a woman doing a Uni project on psoriasis, and she was asking other sufferers to meet, as part of research but also just to talk it through with someone else experiencing the same thing, helping both of us and acting as a type of therapy. I am still meeting with this woman, and this has helped me so much to stay positive since she has found her own ways of curing herself emotionally and physically, and helped me realise that although there may not be an ultimate end of the condition, there can be an end of the unhappiness linked to it. All this inspired me to do a photo shoot with my friend, with the aim of accepting myself and possibly promoting this on my social media sites so I no longer had to hide away from other photos to come in the future, and to join in with the other brave people accepting and learning to love their skin.

During this time, I went to see a skin specialist. I have been diagnosed with a type of psoriasis that is linked to my throat, so throughout my life, whenever I have a certain type of sore throat I will have a flare up for a couple of months. I now know how to implicate prevention, I have to change my student lifestyle (which admittedly I am struggling with) and my particular type of psoriasis is very reactant to sun light. Knowing I can have more control over it is something that is keeping me positive. Currently the flare up is leaving, so I have no itchiness and I am living with rose-pink marks that aren’t itchy or flakey, which I am coping with well. I am lucky enough to know, that it is a spirit, mind and personality that make a person attractive and a constant reminder of that is the only way I can keep my confidence. On a good day I couldn’t care less what anyone on the train is looking at. I understand I am healthy, I don’t have a long-term illness and I have all of my limbs. I am beginning to accept the fact that my skin is different and its severity is temporary (sort of). Saying all this, I still have not built the courage to show it off unapologetically in public, but I am craving that day, and feel one day I could get there.

My parents reaction to my psoriasis has been very emotional, it upsets them both deeply and the amount of research they have both done has been the kindest and most helpful thing for when it was too overwhelming for me to sort out myself. In regard to my friends, I’ve found myself feeling better once I have told people about it and shown them. That way I don’t have to worry about people staring and questioning, and I can then be supported as I’ve had positive reactions from my friends — obviously all are shocked and concerned but in general it hasn’t been a big deal for people, they just want to know more about it. And i’ve discovered recently that I want to raise awareness and inform people, as psoriasis isn’t a norm yet, it still has a taboo around it. I luckily have some incredible friends who are always checking up on me, and whilst I was embarrassed for a while, once I found the courage to show one person, the courage is building to show more. I now am on my journey of acceptance. 

In general, having psoriasis is an emotional roller coaster. On the bad days, they are extremely dark days, many a morning has been spent crying whilst applying cream to the what seemed like never-ending raw spots, but the realisations I have had on my journey are showing me a strength I didn’t know I had. Now I have psoriasis, I also can’t shave my body hair, since having cuts opened damage my already fragile and broken skin, and any damage to the skin results in psoriasis so I can’t risk a cut whilst shaving. I tried Veeting my legs but during a flare up my weeping skin can barely handle the ointment I am prescribed let alone the strength of the Veet. I have to wait until the flare goes down before I can attempt it, and therefore, the journey of accepting my psoriasis comes hand in hand with the journey of accepting my hair. On a good day of acceptance, it is very empowering to not feel upset about either! But everyday is a different struggle with psoriasis. A couple of months ago I was a walking flake leaving traces of my skin everywhere, and looking at giant patches of sore, red, dry skin is not a look that in any way at all makes me feel sexy. And I know that time will return at some point in my life, which admittedly is hard to think about. Whilst suffering with depression alongside, I often feel that my journey to self-love has been made a lot harder than some other people, but I am aware that everyone is on their own journey. And so far on mine, I have found a strength inside that I didn’t know existed, and I hope it continues this way. My hope for the future surrounding my psoriasis, is that I find the courage to get involved in as many projects promoting psoriasis as possible, as a way of helping myself and others find peace.

Vogue 100: A Century of Style Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

Vogue 100: A Century of Style Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

I spent 2016 Valentine’s day with the two most important women I know and adore – my Mother and my Grandmother. We went up to the National Portrait Gallery to see: ‘Vogue 100: A Century of Style’, due to our joint love of fashion, magazines, Kate Moss and in particular, Vogue.

To start the exhibition, we entered ‘The Vogue Library’ followed by ‘A Century of Magazines’. This involved a glass cabinet, which inside held vogue magazine’s chosen from each year from the 1920’s up until present day. Instantly this taught the audience the history of fashion and history of society – each cover modernised through the headlines, iconography and layout as the years progressed. For example the first magazines started as illustrations of 1920’s flapper girls, then the ones today had famous fashion models and celebrities. It was teaching us our culture and what was important for each era in fashion and society – I think in particular highlighting our vanity now and how important our image is to us. Having the magazines so close together, the strength of progression and importance of fashion was apparent – fashion has always been and is used as a way to represent a whole society in a particular era. Fundamentally, that’s why I think I enjoyed the exhibition so much, as I love the history of fashion and how one individual cover told you so much about the attitudes of a particular time.

After this, the exhibition went in chronological order, starting from the 1920’s, and having a different room per decade up until present day. I liked the fact each room was solely committed to a decade, as you could really immerse yourself in the atmosphere of each fashion era and its society and culture. Therefore when moving through to each room you could fully experience the difference and progression. Each room displayed some of the most famous covers from that year, and the closer it got to the present decade, more rooms then also displayed photograph’s of the models that had featured on the covers, but in their own separate shoot’s outside of Vogue. For example as you were leaving the exhibition, images of fashion icons filled the walls such as Alexander McQueen to add to the importance of this exhibition. One room felt like an appreciation of Kate Moss (which I was more than okay with), displaying her most iconic images and ones that I hadn’t seen before. All as beautiful, cool and innocent but sexy as each other (I even bought a postcard of my favourite one at the end in the shop, I don’t know if I want to be with or be her, she’s an angel).

My favourite part of the exhibition was when the shots were displayed by video montage. In a dark room, we saw a combination of film footage and still shots of the Vogue cover photo shoots, old and new, projected onto a wall. I find fashion photo shoots such an exciting vision and thought, so to see it technically such as the different poses the models would do and the amount of shots taken was so interesting, but it also was such a good idea to present them in video format – I found it more exciting than when the covers were simply displayed in a frame on the wall. The video footage made it more realistic and like a real experience and I wanted to be a part of it. It also was not what I was expecting from a History of Vogue exhibition, so not only was it exciting to get that insight, but important for the audience to have so the history felt through video, as the realistic feel made an audience member looking onwards feel like the photographer making the choices. This part of the exhibition also had the real rolls of film from the photo shoots the audience had just seen in the film. This touch was so exciting to me as I love the history of fashion, film and photography, not only because visually it looks so much cooler than present day technology, but I am obsessed with everything vintage as it’s a piece of history right in front of you that someone created for a particular reason at a certain stage of their life and here you are looking at their work however many years later. I find it such an exciting prospect.

The exhibition is on from 11th February – 22nd May, at the National Portrait Gallery and whether you are interested in the history of fashion and culture, magazines, behind the scenes of vogue or simply want to have a Kate Moss fix then I seriously recommend it!

(Apologies for the lack of images, there was a no photography ban which I kinda broke but didn’t commit properly cause the security guard got aggy)

Link to the exhibition’s website

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John Napier: Stages, Beyond the Fourth Wall review

John Napier: Stages, Beyond the Fourth Wall review

‘The world of art and theatre are currently conflicting. I’m trying to show people it can merge’ – John Napier

The world of theatre is one that I have always been involved in and one I will ensure I surround and indulge myself in forever. John Napier reminded me of why in his exhibition ‘Stages: Behind the fourth wall’, showing at The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne from the 29th November 2015 – 31st January 2016.

I have always counted my Dad as an extremely lucky person – so when we went to the Towner Art Gallery to see this exhibition that I had wanted to see, my dad’s luck resulted in us with getting a guided tour by John Napier himself, turned out it was the first and last tour he was doing of the exhibition as it was ending that evening. I am not aiming for this to be a strict and professional review of the exhibition because the exhibition left me with more excitement and inspiration than that. I want this to just highlight particular moments that did so, and to celebrate the talent John Napier has and how he showed this in his work. I want to join the movement of other spectators who saw it, where the overall agreement was that this exhibition was too special to never be shown again, and that it has to be taken to a gallery in London.

As soon we walked in we were met by his costume designs for ‘Starlight Express’. As I haven’t seen the show I was instantly taken back by the technicality, colour and show-feel that hit you as soon as you looked, with each character’s difference in personality being apparent straight away. They were everything I wanted to see from a stage costume designer, and to realise that he was the original designer who read the original script and saw these designs in his head made me appreciate his talent instantly and I knew I’d joined an audience who felt the same. Also, because of the success of ‘Starlight Express’, a sense of excitement came over me as I knew how important Napier was and here we are standing next to him. They were all very 3D, with technical parts on each costume, which made sense when he went onto explain that his background and main joy lies in sculpture, this passion shining in the rest of the exhibition.

As we went round the corner, his costume design display for ‘Equur’ felt like I was seeing a mini-show. I was expecting to see drawings or photographs of the show, but the real masks were there, creating such an instant theatrical, magical feel and the main display character was elevated making even more of this impact. The fact you could see and touch these masks instead of seeing photographs made you appreciate the time and talent it takes to make them. In photos it can be over-looked and the theatrical element can take over, so it was incredible to see up close how he made them, and I can’t even begin to imagine how he created this vision in his head. As part of his tour, we were lucky enough to be indulged in behind the scenes – he stood up on the podium and gave us a talk on the technicality and step by step process in the creations, including how the weight of the masks on the actors heads had to be taken into account and how to leave the finishing touch.

As we went round the corner, there were two of his set designs, which were my favourite of the exhibition. Because of my love of live theatre, I have always found set’s so interesting – how the designer would imagine the scene being played around the set and for that to then literally happen seems like a film come to life for me. The amount of detail and patience that goes into creating them, and then to see its replica in stage size version is incredible. The set’s in Napier’s exhibition showed exactly that through the tiny intricate details, and these sets in particular were grand so the rich colours of the pillars and textures of velvet just added to the vision. More sets were displayed in a clear glass arch display, which meant you could have a full view the whole way round, therefore enabling you to imagine yourself/an actor in the set and it made it come to life.

Another piece that made an impact on me was the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ theatre prop. At a first glance it is a beautiful piece, but then when you look further you see tiny details that make it even more beautiful. For example, I noticed instantly the similarity in the shape of the prop to a cross, but in a closer look I saw the wings that represented the horizontal shape, with two hands underneath either side with pins through, parallel to Jesus’s story. At first I didn’t notice the hands, so it has a shock effect where you realise the literal link and intention, as not only is the representation gory but by using the iconic image it re-emphasises the morals of the story, and the initial horror of how he was treated. This shock factor is vital in theatre to create audience emotions and enigma, and it shows Napier is a true talent and professional. John Napier went on to point out the load of mini skulls covering the bottom of the prop – explaining how there are enough there to represent every year from when Jesus was born, to right current present year, with one getting added on every year.

The exhibition finished with a huge series of sculptures, which at first looked like canons in a circle to me. Napier explained how now his career in theatre is closing, his work turns to his passion of sculpture, and this being his favourite design he felt it needed to be in the exhibition. To me, it had a theatrical element and looked similar to a set design – maybe because of it’s size or warlike look (after letting the audience explain their interpretation, he went on to explain how it represents sexuality, and had a theme of male and female reproduction). I think the fact I thought it was still a set piece proves his idealistic merge of art and theatre does exist, and how they really do go hand in hand. I do not understand how the two worlds are competing because to me, John Napier is an artist, and he had created some of the most extraordinary costumes and set designs for the some of the most famous performances. His main reoccurring comment was that artists are afraid of mixing their world with the theatre world, and they are somewhat conflicting. But seeing his costume and set designs, he has completely blurred these boundaries and made it hard for me to even have the thought these world are conflicting, he made them look as if they go hand in hand.

The amount of detail Napier puts into a set/prop is exactly why ‘John Napier’s: Stages’ exhibition is wasted simply being in Eastbourne for a limited time, this should be a major exhibition in London and in many other galleries for everyone to witness his talent, and for everyone to fall in love with theatre and the production team. I strongly believe this as walking out of the exhibition I felt the excitement and passion that theatre brings, and a new love and appreciation for the people that create the excitement. The exhibition is not only a way for us to have an insight and to appreciate his talents, but to say thank you for the work he has done in theatre, he deserves for it to be appreciated further.

Francesca Allen

Audrey Hepburn appreciation

Audrey Hepburn appreciation

Last year, I went to the Audrey Hepburn Exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery, showing from 2 July – 18 October 2015.  I have always loved Audrey Hepburn, and although I have never seen one of her films (which I will definitely make sure I do soon after seeing the exhibition), I love what she stands for in the fashion and film world and admire the things she achieved in her life.

I started collecting her iconic image on decorative items such as pillows just because I liked her signature look and the black and white, art deco theme she is known for. My grandmother and mother then started buying me books about her including her most famous modelling shoots and shots from her life and films she had been in. The photograph’s in the exhibition showed similar shots and displayed her whole life, from a young ballerina, her prime modelling days and iconic captures, her on her family holidays to Hepburn at an older age volunteering. Throughout all she carried everything I fell in love with – her innocence, purity, beauty and joy, and could instantly see how she became as loved as she was.

Obviously noticing her clothes as she is a fashion icon – I love how she enjoyed the tomboyish look and is known for blurring the boundaries between masculinity and femininity. I noticed through these books and particularly through the exhibition how I admire her ability to stay classy with her beauty, none of her poses or shots were overtly sexual or her trying hard to arouse the audience like most women think is how to look sexy – her sexiness came through her stance, posture, happiness and pride in herself and the situation around her. With that modest sexiness even being carried through to her older age where she was volunteering with charities abroad, the happiness, pride and situated culture still makes her beautiful. This was all mentioned in the exhibition, her friends, family, cast and crew members and just passer-by’s comment on her pure beauty and heart filled with kindness and determination to succeed which made her even more attractive, and how she perfectly balanced the juxtaposition of being polite but not caring if people will judge her and representing her own thing.

She started the trends in fashion that I like to wear now, so she will forever be important to me. I can also identify with her in the sense that I too have also always loved theatre, dance, fashion and film, and done it all throughout my childhood and have studied it as a teenager, so she is a further inspiration to me as and she has been lucky enough to do everything that I would love to do in my life, and has achieved things that I could only dream of achieving. Watching her journey through wanting to be a ballerina, to modelling, to acting and to finally becoming the humanitarian she was makes her even more inspiring to me.

Link to the home page of the Exhibition

Review: East Sussex Open 2015

Review: East Sussex Open 2015

I went along to the Towner Art Gallery (Eastbourne) to go see the free exhibition showcasing local art from people around Brighton & Hove. What I adored about the show was the fact that the artists were normal people who had used their previous life experiences and expressed them through art, a lot of them being to do with mental health illness’ or personal family issues. I was taken back by the extremely high standard, and then once reading the inspiration behind the art I was extremely moved by the honesty and intensity of their lives, and I loved to see how they had personally interpreted it. I find with art, every single person interprets it differently and feels differently when they look at it. However, to know the real reason and the intended interpretation is special, which this showcase allowed us to do. By showing the personal link between the art and the artist, the artists allow you to feel their personal pain with them, in that moment, just you two. For this reason a lot of the work in this particular exhibition was extremely moving, and I felt their pain intensely.

Normally, most artwork I see has just a name of the art and name of the artist. However, every piece in East Sussex Open had that accompanied with a detailed background story behind the piece. For example, the first piece I saw was created by a teenage boy. It was a series of three painting’s that were all extremely dark apart from a bright small square in the middle. After reading the description, I saw that he had taken inspiration from his Grandfather who had flown planes in WW1 and WW2, who has been left with post-traumatic stress disorder from it. From this information I interpreted the squares in the painting representing his Grandfather’s mental health issues, as in a square the line is running and then suddenly gets stuck, before carrying on again until it abruptly gets stuck again. I imagine this being parallel to his Grandfather’s life as some days he will be fine and can live his new life in the new era, but he will always get hit and stuck by his memories, stopping his progress. The darkness surrounding the squares emphasises his mindset. I find it very brave of the artist to be so honest about his personal family life, therefore making the piece even more special and moving and I respect that massively.

Another piece in the gallery that caught my eye included a series of photographs taken by a young girl, and they included her following the lives of a muslim family living in Britain. In each photo, the scenario looks extremely normal, one being a car in the driveway, one being an empty bedroom, with flowered wallpaper and a wooden bed and one showing a huge garden with one young boy playing cricket by himself. From her description, she explained how although our society acts as if it is happily multi-cultural, truly there will always be a part of society that will forever make other religions, countries and cultures aware of their differences and make them believe they are not truly part of it. I believe this is true and can see it since the photos include every day life, the British car, the bedroom, the typical British housing, but all the photos are empty and have physically and atmospherically no life in them, cleverly showing how a muslim family living in Britain could be made to feel.

There was a giant box in the middle of the gallery showroom, with a small white door half open. Intrigued, I read the description before I went in, and it explained how it was showing ‘inside the mindset of a rich man’. A torch hung off the handle, and as I entered it was pitch black, but when I shone the torch all the walls were completely filled with bank statements, bills, fraud letters, etc. It emphasised the negative side of being rich, and I interpreted it as a potential warning sign of what lengths and extremes to not go too just to be wealthy. The darkness of the box represented how someone in this particular life would be trapped in it, and how they pretend its not existing by ‘staying in the dark’, but when the light is shone and the truth is out, what has been building up will trap them in an intense world they do not know where to start to get out off.

Another piece included two photographs, one of a women covered by a beautiful beaded head and face piece and the other a landscape one with an advertisement saying ‘let’s adore and endure each other’. I loved the photographs in themselves because I love photos of real people from different cultures and the headpiece in particular since I love cultural fashion, and I loved the second one because of it’s colours, abstract patterns and words. Again, one reading the description the photographs become even more beautiful as I read how the photographer had terminal cancer at the time of taking them, and it was only once she died that her family found these photos she had taken and had entered them into the Open Exhibition. The photographs then take on a completely different meaning – the women in the headpiece once looked straight at the photographer to show her beauty, suddenly the direct eye contact seemed intense and a cry for help. The words visible in the other photograph then again become much more powerful, as the photographer’s passing makes them more real, as if she was leaving that legacy and words behind for us all to carry on our lives with. These words captured her vision and heart for a reason.

The final piece that I loved was a painting done by an 18 year old student. After writing on Facebook that he couldn’t decide whether to buy a new hat with £20 he had or enter his artwork into the exhibition, he received a lot of negative response. Because of this he made a painting with exactly the words he wrote on Facebook, with an avatar of himself at the bottom wearing his new hat saying ‘in the end I got both’. When reading the description I discovered he has mental health issues, and I found it brilliant that he hadn’t let all the negative response get to him, but instead create something humorous from the situation that I admire him for, and that would shut all the negative people up! I found it really refreshing and inspiring, and made me realise that what we all write on Facebook and social media could effect people more than we realise, as I bet rather a lot of those commenters didn’t realise he had mental health issues, just luckily he turned the whole situation into a good one.

Overall, I felt extremely privileged and proud when leaving the exhibition, and although this was a review on last year’s, I am extremely looking forward to this year’s open exhibition and recommend it highly.

By Francesca Allen

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