In October 2023 I was commissioned by The University of Glasgow to create six new pieces of work that responded to their ongoing campaign against gender-based violence, #TogetherAgainstGBV. The exhibition in The James McCune Smith Building was up for the UN's #16DaysOfActivism, an international period of activism bookended by the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women (25th November) and Human Rights Day (10th December).
Photo courtesy of Martin Shields
The body of work needed to respond to the institution's historical negligence in regards to their past handling of gender-based violence, which was highlighted in an independent report by Morag Ross KC in December 2022. It also needed to highlight the University's promise to do better going forward.
All of the work I created was in response to focus groups that had taken place between various staff and student bodies. It was important to me that the work reflected the real experiences of the affected communities in an unflinching and interrogative way, but that also celebrated people's resilience, and encouraged accountability and healing.
'THE RUG', floor decal, 130 x 300cm.
Alt text: THE RUG shows different words, written in different fonts and colours, creating a patchwork rug effect. The words and phrases are from left to right: Innuendo, catcalling, disbelief, (surprise surprise!) misogyny, boys will be boys, infantilisation, just banter, misogynoir, silence, mansplaining, transphobia, toxic masculinity, neglect, sexism, belittling, micro-aggressions, coercion, #TogetherAgainstGBV, THE RUG, fetishisation, misuse of power, grade a gaslighting (extra hot lies), and the artists handle.
I wanted ‘THE RUG’ to challenge the very notion of silence, by prompting collective reflection on the responsibilities that institutions bear in addressing gender-based violence. Being reflective of the institutional failings that have been historically overlooked, or, ‘swept under the rug’, it asks the University to engage in a dialogue that pushes to create an environment where gender-based violence is taken seriously and handled without prejudice.
The information from the focus groups led me to work predominantly with text for the first time as the leading element. Any text in my work is usually embedded in hand-written font to accompany figures, in support of the over-riding narrative. 'THE RUG' gave me an opportunity to experiment with text as the driving force behind the entire piece by taking figurative work entirely out of the design, and instead focussing solely on the nuanced interplay between text, colour and motif. There was so munch information provided by the focus groups on this particular aspect, so it was important that I included as many perspectives and experiences as possible. In forfeiting my usual figurative style I was able to provide enough space for these ideas to be represented effectively. The collective impact of each word or phrase together does what one stand-alone quotation wouldn't achieve.
There were certain install limitations in the space which meant I was only able to create artworks on foam board, or as floor decals (bar the mirror which was signed off separately). Initially I wanted 'THE RUG' to be an actual hand-tufted rug or wall hanging, reminiscent of Grayson Perry's tapestries, which served as a big inspiration for me throughout the design process. However the floor decal worked well in that it provided a level of interaction with the piece that invited the viewer to walk around or across it in the busy atrium. Almost as soon as the piece was installed some people were stopped in their tracks and doubled back, whilst others obliviously walked right over it. These different interactions that would have otherwise been negligible had the piece been hanging on the wall provided another tongue-in-cheek yet highly significant layer to the meaning of the work.
I deliberately chose a slightly more dulled colour palette to the other works for this piece too, reflective of the undeniably murky past that has now been acknowledged by the University. I wanted it to be almost swamp-like and not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing, whilst still drawing people in with jewel-like highlights that also provided a layer of visual coherence throughout the entire body of work.
Black and white initial design.
I used Procreate to develop the design as it gave me immediate versatility when trying out different ways of writing and figuring out how each 'patch' would fit together. Once I was happy I exported each black and white layer into Adobe Illustrator to vectorise, rescale and colour. As I wanted it to be as big as the printer would take I needed a programme that would be able to take the dimensions of the piece. Procreate has limitations on scale, which also determines the number of layers available (the bigger the file, the less number of layers), and as each element of the design needed to be a separate layer, the initial design blueprint was nowhere big enough
'THE LINE', printed illustration on foam board, 8 x 150cm.
Alt text: A bright and colourful text-based illustration printed on an extra long foam board that represents the line drawn in the sand regarding gender based violence. Words and phrases on left to right: healing, enthusiastic consent, allyship, healthy masculinity, men calling out bad behaviour, space, intersectional support, THE LINE, #OneTeamUofG, healthy rejection, belief, queer power, accountability, trans joy, visibility, interruption, communication, active bystander, collective action, recovery, consequences, solidarity, effective reporting, and trust. Behind all of the words there is a long line with arrows pointing left and right at each end.
Serving as a positive counterpart to ‘THE RUG’, I wanted ‘THE LINE’ to draw a visual boundary and serve as a promise to do better by the University. The piece looks beyond previously acknowledged historical shortcomings by the University as portrayed in 'THE RUG', and represents phrases and themes from student and staff focus groups that envision a healthier and safer institutional response to gender-based violence going forward.
Again the form of this piece was limited by the specs of the foam board that had been approved for the exhibition site, but still served it's purpose within the confines of the install requirements. I always saw this piece as a comically long, almost Shrigley-esque line throughout the floor of the atrium and/or up along the walls of the space, creating an interactive installation whereby people could scribble their suggestions and promises alongside the initial ideas and motifs. Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of the work this may not have boded well in regard to un-vetted responses or potential hate speech the work may have triggered. I believe in authentic public interaction with often dubbed 'taboo' subject matter, as it can provide an honest and realistic reflection of where we are collectively at as a society. However, in this instance it was also important to ensure that the affected communities' voices were safeguarded, and most importantly, centred in the conversation.
'NOT ASKING FOR IT', riso print paste-up on foam board, 100 x 150cm
Alt text: A colourful paste-up of 8 different riso prints that addresses the nuances of consent. Each riso print shows line drawing illustrations of a diverse range of bodies, with accompanying text clockwise from top left: ‘my clothes, our relationship, silence, being drunk, flirting, does not mean yes.’, ’Not Asking For It’, ‘boys will be boys (men will be accountable for their actions), ’no does not mean convince me’, ’sex is not something to be won by one, and taken by another, ‘enthusiastic consent = consent’, ‘my yes is reversible’, hesitation means stop’.
‘NOT ASKING FOR IT’ centres education around consent as a fundamental cornerstone in dismantling the culture around gender-based violence. The installation demands a critical examination of the alleged ‘grey areas’ surrounding consent, exposing the different ways that the undermining of consent can manifest. The artwork is intentionally raw and confrontational, demanding that the viewer sit with their discomfort in an attempt to spark conversations that delve into the nuances of the conversation, whilst making it clear that the presence of nuance does not provide an excuse for complicity. The piece rejects the traditional ‘No Means No’ rhetoric, in lieu of a clearer understanding that enthusiastic consent, is the only consent. By encouraging active listening and communication in sexual relationships, the artwork is a direct response to the pressing need for better awareness, urging the university community to actively engage in the uncomfortable conversations surrounding consent.
I was really excited about this piece as I love the bright and immediate quality of riso printing. As a medium it lends itself well to guerilla campaigning techniques, and this method of printmaking is often used for fly-postering or out-of-home marketing due to the versatility and cheapness of newsprint. I wanted to emanate this paste-up feel by wallpaper pasting the artworks onto a larger panel, that again like 'THE RUG' had greater collective impact when al the ideas where represented together. The remaining riso prints were then postered up around the rest of the uni campus, creating a further reach that sparked engagement with the campaign. My hope was that students might take them down and keep them - perhaps putting them up in the kitchens and bedrooms of their halls of residence. The messaging would then continue to perpetrate highly significant spaces in regards to gender-based violence, and continue important conversations between young people.
Mock-ups created using Risotto Studio's print simulator
I created the different layers to each print using a combination of different typefaces, handwritten fonts and large analogue drawings on paper. For the figurative drawings I worked with Posca pens on A2 paper, and the handwritten fonts I developed on Procreate. I then finished off the layers and developed the use of different typefaces in Adobe Illustrator. I experimented with inks using Risotto Studio's handy online print simulator, which lets you try out their different available papers, inks and transparencies using your separated PNG layers. This is such a useful free tool, you can find it here.
(Original work-in-progress drawings for riso print series)
'YOU ARE SEEN' hand-painted mirror, 60 x 170cm.
Alt text: Large floor length freestanding arched mirror which has been hand-painted on the glass. The painting shows a graphic block-colour illustration of a young woman of East Asian heritage crouching down, with one had raised to the side of her face. She is wearing a yellow jumper, and blue trousers and trainers. Around her are the words ‘You Are Seen’, pink with a black drop-shadow.
‘You Are Seen’, serves as a visual metaphor for the institution's commitment to increased visibility and empathy in handling gender-based violence. Inviting students and staff to engage with the piece and see themselves reflected within the artwork, ‘You Are Seen’ symbolically centres the viewers’ experiences and places them at the forefront of the conversation. The mirror becomes a portal for affirmation, as well as a visual commitment from the university to acknowledge and believe those who have been affected.
In asking the viewer to engage in dialogue with their own reflection, the viewer is able to affirm their presence and significance within the university community.
Photo courtesy of Martin Shields
This was my first time using enamel paints, which are used by sign writers for their smooth flow, durability and versatility (they can be used on any surface and are designed for outdoor use). I knew they would be the best option for painting directly onto glass, but I also had been warned that they can be tricky to work with if you aren't used to them. The trick was to get the ratio of paint to white spirit right - in the end I only used the tiniest bit of spirit to loosen it up as the glass was so smooth anyway. For a first attempt I am really happy with how it turned out, and am glad to have enamel paints handy in the studio now for further experimentation. 1Shot have such a great range of colours which I also used for the design of the floor decal to accompany it (below).
('Stand Here to be Seen' accompanying floor decal for mirror interaction.)
'Self Care as an Act of Resistance', printed illustration, 85 x 120cm.
Alt text: A colourful illustration showing two young women in the corner of a Glasgow tenement kitchen. One is standing behind the other, shaving an undercut of the woman in front, who is sitting in a wheelchair. They are wearing bright and colourful clothes, and are surrounded by plants and book which sit on shelves in the background.
‘Self-Care as an Act of Resistance’ encourages a redefinition of strength, by celebrating self-care as an essential part of healing and acceptance in the face of trauma. In the context of gender-based violence, the act of reclaiming one's body through personal care becomes a radical gesture. The piece challenges the notion that vulnerability is a weakness, asserting the belief that softness is an undeniable form of empowerment. The artwork invites viewers to contemplate the weighty act of authentic self-love, positioning it as a vital component of resilience and healing. In urging the viewer to prioritise their well-being, it acknowledges that caring for oneself can often feel like a revolutionary act.
I created the two printed illustrations on foam board for the exhibit using my usual process of scanning analogue drawings on paper into Adobe Illustrator to vectorise, fill and finish off digitally. It was also the first time I used AI to generate my source material to draw from. I wanted the colours to be earthy and calming, but also bright and unflinching.
'Men! Sit Down For Your Rights!', printed illustration, 85 x 120cm.
Alt text: A colourful illustration showing a young white cisgender man with short brown hair site reading a book on the Glasgow Subway. The book is ’The Descent of Man’ by Grayson Perry. In the subway carriage there are advertisements for the books ’The Will to Change’ by bell hooks, and ‘Mask Off’ by J.J Bola. Behind him on the platform there is an advertisement for ’Showing Up! The Musical (on Ice).
‘Men! Sit Down for Your Rights!’ is a rallying call for men to assume collective responsibility for the dismantling of harmful cultural norms, by challenging men to recognise the pervasive impact of patriarchy on all genders. It emphasises that the onus is not solely on women and other marginalised genders to lead this change, but that men must actively understand and address their role in perpetuating these standards. In choosing to educate oneself and centring the experiences of those affected, one becomes a catalyst for change. Through the highlighting of actionable steps toward allyship, this piece stands as a visual manifesto, challenging men to actively engage in the ongoing fight for a safer, more inclusive campus environment.
The uni also ordered in and made available the cited books in their library which I thought was pretty cool. The name of the piece comes from a chapter in Grayson Perry's 'The Descent of Man', a book I read when it came out and that I felt speaks about masculinity so eloquently and accessibly. It felt weird representing a male figure for a change but I thought it was essential in this context that young men see themselves as part of the conversation with the ability to enact real change. Gender-based violence needs to stop being seen as a 'women's issue' where the onus is on the people most affected to fix themselves, particularly when the root of many societal issues surrounding gender-based violence is caused and permeated by patriarchy. I hope young men can see how easy it is to pick up a book that speaks about masculinity in a healthy way and use it for the benefit of themselves and everyone around them.
This project was one of the biggest I've ever taken on and I feel very grateful to the staff and students at Glasgow University who trusted me to embark on such a huge undertaking. According to the brief, the artworks needed to be powerful, and have bold colourful messaging, and be impactful and provocative. The work also needed to raise awareness around different types of gender-based violence with a survivor-led approach, and be inclusive and intersectional in its representation. Key words and themes identified in the brief included ‘consent’, ‘non-binary/trans inclusivity’, ‘empowerment’, ‘survival’, ‘recovery and love’, and ‘avoid apologetics’. I feel proud of the work that went into creating these pieces that needed to cover such a huge array of issues sensitively, whilst also having impact. The exhibition will be going on tour to other GU campuses this year and we are currently having conversations about other ways in which the artworks might be used in the future.