GRAFTING UNDER

TORY STATE

After the recent election results, Guts Gallery is launching our 'Grafting Under Tory State' tees, raising funds for our 2020 programme and the foodbank charity The Trussel Trust.

Guts Gallery

Running a grassroots gallery is costly and your support is invaluable! By purchasing a Grafting Under Tory State tee, you will be able to help us support underrepresented voices in the art world. These voices include: artists of low-income backgrounds, artists with disabilities, artists of colour, all sexual orientations and gender identities. Together we aim to cultivate an art scene that demonstrates the cultural importance of grassroots galleries and challenge inequality in the art world.

Trussel Trust

Guts Gallery wants to use this platform to raise funds for the charity The Trussel Trust. A nationwide network of food banks providing emergency food and support to people locked in poverty. In the UK, more than 14 million people are living in poverty including 4.5 million children. They also provide compassionate and practical support to people in crisis to tackle the root causes that lock people into poverty and build people’s resilience so they are less likely to need a food bank in the future.

Interviews Edited by Isobel Gorman-Buckley 14th February 2020

Photography by Fraser Hanley-Nicholls

JANINE FRANCOIS

What is your background?

 

I am a Black British Woman who grew up in Stratford Newham and whose family roots are from St.Lucia and Dominica, two small but very culturally rich Caribbean islands! I always think of my personal background as a reflection of Britain’s histories.

 

What do you do?

 

Many things! I am Lecturer at Central Saint Martins and a Ph.D student researching safer spaces within art museums at Tate. More importantly, I am a feminist activist and Cultural Producer and I am interested in collaborative working and co-production with marginalised communities.

How are you grafting under the tory state?

 

According to the Arts Council England, (I write accordingly, because whose definitions are we using here?) Newham is one of these least ‘culturally’ engaged boroughs in London and people of colour and working-class communities are also the least culturally engaged groups. Newham is predominately working-class and non-white. As someone who is connected to both communities, living all my life in a Newham, that supposedly has a cultural deficit, I ask, who is going to pick up the tab to fix this supposed problem? Who is going to invest in the artists born and bred in Newham to create work and spaces that speaks to and reflect our diverse lived experiences and that of our communities? We know that arts funding is continuously being cut? So how will funding and opportunities to reach those who are in need of it the most?

 

What needs to change and how?

 

We need more equitable funding, that reflects the make-up of London, considering that London is 40% non-white. We need to ensure marginalised groups across race, class, sexuality and gender identity are a part of decision marking processes regarding funding, as many of these aforementioned groups are disproportionately funded the least. Publicly funded institutions ultimately need to be decolonised, we need non-elitist definitions of ‘art’ and ‘culture’ and we more transparent and radical ways of working that is collaborative and decentres embedded hierarchies. We need not a new structure, but no structure. We need this to happen now if we truly want an equal cultural ecosystem in the UK.  We need the bigot Boris Johnson and his bigoted party out of government. If we remain as we are (and I fear we will) this Tory-led government lack of arts funding, will further the divide between those who receive funding and those who don’t and therefore those who cultural engage and those who don’t.

CORBIN SHAW

What is your background?

 

I’m a Yorkshire lad, I grew up on the outskirts of Sheffield. My Dad is a steelworker and my mum a barber. Both my parents are proper grafters, raising four kids as well as chasing their own careers. I’ve grown up in a working-class environment where my parents have had to graft every day. Growing up my Dad would always take me to the firm and show me how hard work has been for him, telling me “if you don’t pull your finger out at school you’ll end up here with me.

 

What do you do?

 

I’m currently studying fine art BA at Central Saint Martins. I’m one of the first people in my family to go to university, so coming to London to study art was a big deal for me. When I proposed to my parents I wanted to go study art with no secure job post-degree, the idea was met with many difficulties. The work ethic my parents instilled in me pushes me forward to achieve things I never thought I could.

How are you grafting under the tory state?

 

As well as studying, I have worked various jobs to support my practice. Moving to London (the most expensive city in the UK) has been a real test as paying for materials, travel, food, rent amongst other things has been a constant worry for me.

 

What needs to change and how?

I have no idea how to change things in this bloody country! But I can see negative changes coming to post-Brexit Britain. Sadly, we are all going to have to deal with the consequences as it was the countries decision and continue to graft to survive under our Tory government.

DAISY PARRIS

What is your background?

 

I’m from the Medway towns in Kent. To give you some context, I went from a small town that is rife with unemployment, racism and homophobia, where UKIP and the conservatives have somehow infiltrated the psyche of the working class, to moving to London to study, having just turned 18, figuring out I was queer, suddenly surrounded by middle and upper class people who boasted their privileged, intelligence and wealth and constantly made me feel inferior. One thing that I encountered a lot and is really offensive to me and has to stop, especially at art universities, is the middle class’ glorification of “looking and living poor”. It hurts actually, cos we don’t have the option of switching it on and off and asking parents for money.

 

What do you do?

 

I've been a self-employed artist for the last two years. I paint a lot. I use it to process everything I'm going through and to think about the people I'm surrounded by, in that way I need to paint to survive. I have a lot of guilt because I'm the first person in my family to be self-employed and that is a total privilege. I've grafted to be in this position, and I have to constantly remind myself and others that I am worthy of this and that I am working very hard to provide for the people around me. It's hard to manage my depression and being self-employed. I overwork a lot to compensate for my fear of people thinking I'm lazy, but in fact this makes me even more ill and takes me longer to recover from. I'm learning now that you can only make your best work and be your best self when you are well rested.

How are you grafting under the tory state?

 

I’ve been working twice as hard for what feels like forever. It’s in my blood to work hard because I have to or I won’t survive. I rely on the NHS for my antidepressants. Working class and queer people are more likely to suffer with mental health issues. I don’t trust the tories with the NHS. The people at the bottom don’t stand a chance. It’s a constant cycle of working class people with mental health issues that struggle to get help.

 

What needs to change and how?

 

Artists need to be challenging the institutions they work with. Challenge them to truly invest in underrepresented voices and believe it and make sure institutions aren’t exhibiting token outsiders just cos it’s fashionable. Queer and trans people are in danger everyday. Wherever it is safe for me to do so, I am working hard to make sure my queerness is visible. I am working hard to make sure I am visible and occupying space and to show that working class and queer people are worthy of living their dreams too. I don’t want people to feel alone. It’s very important to check up on how people are doing, especially with casual racism, sexism and homophobia alive and normalised in mainstream media. For me, making art is about human connection. I believe you can educate and infiltrate and undo everything that’s been force fed to you. I really believe artists have a responsibility to use their voices.

ELLIE PENNICK

What is your background?

 

I am a working-class queer woman from North Yorkshire. My dads side of the family were miners who suffered from Thatcher's cruel pit closures. I became part of a generation undermined and scarred by the post-Thatcher, neoliberal society in which we navigate. I grew up surrounded by such a loving, strong and political family. We all suffered a lot of loss in the space of a few years, which I wouldn't wish upon anyone. Our sarcastic humour and support got us through a lot of shit. They instilled a strong work ethic into me. Working from such a young age and understanding the value of money and graft has got me where I am now. I grew up quickly and soon realised I had nothing to lose so left and decided to study at Leeds College of Art, working as a pot washer to fund my train ticket. I then moved to London and had the privilege to study at Chelsea College of Art.

 

What do you do?

 

I am the director and founder of Guts Gallery. After leaving university in the Summer of 2017, I was accepted onto a Sculpture Masters course at the Royal College of Art. However, due to limited funds, I was unable to study there. I noticed the distribution of wealth within the arts operates on a model which mirrors that of wider social austerity; it disproportionately benefits people who do not experience racial oppression, gender or class discriminations. Instead of adhering to this it spurred me on to create a business venture that benefits other struggling artists myself. I am also a gallery manager at The Bomb Factory Art Foundation, run by the amazing Pallas Citroen. Which is a arts charity that supports cultural organisations and educational institutions to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the viewing and creating art.

How are you grafting under the tory state?

 

I have always said to my friends who are in a place of financial privilege, 'the only difference between you and I is stability'. I have never had my rent paid for, I've never had an allowance, I never had a chance to go on a gap year. I've been denied a further education studying a masters and I’ve had to sofa hop when shit has hit the fan. I have had to work my arse off from the age of 14 to be where I am now. I have been inspired throughout this campaign by everyone's honesty discussing grafting whilst suffering from mental health issues. I feel I owe it to them for the first time to be publicly honest about my experience. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar, which is a long term disorder/disability that has affected every aspect of my life. I, therefore, have had to navigate and work twice as hard to overcome this. The lack of funds to mental health services in the NHS is a massive concern but what I have noticed is that creatives have created a platform of understanding and support with each other which I hope Guts Gallery does.

 

What needs to change and how?

 

The structural formula that most galleries work in accordance with must be refreshed and updated. To avoid following traditional modelling that is typically impermeable to marginalised artists and undervalued collectors. Many figures and institutions are scared to speak out about inequality in the art world, often in fear of their own precarious positions being compromised. If we are all vocal about inequality I believe we can make a change.

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