At the outset of the pandemic Autograph decided to focus our work on ideas of care and what this means and looks like in challenging times. One turbulent year on and conversations about care are everywhere, from displays of gratitude towards our healthcare providers and the challenges they face, to the urgent rethinking of how we live, connect and share together (whilst apart).
Care also became the second theme for our online artists’ course, PILOT, following on from a critical focus on human rights (which you can read about here). We began exploring the topic by hearing from Kate Adams and Cassie Thornton, our guest artists whose practices push the boundaries of how art and care might work together and create new structures that centre agency, health, creativity, solidarity and community. The session provided an appeal to think about care critically, as well as a deeper insight into the actual work of caring: we learned of the dire situations and barriers facing disabled communities in Kate’s work with Project Art Works, and the urgent legal case Cassie had to attend to mid-session, fighting for justice in the murder of an indigenous woman in her city of Thunder Bay, Canada.
Reflecting and responding to this, the PILOT artists brought multiple new ways of thinking and feeling about care into the space. The beautiful musical sounds created by Lauriem invited us to ‘draw a path’ and, in their own words, “step into the care work that consists of welcoming, accepting, processing and releasing difficult emotions, in a collectively difficult time.” Henrique J. Paris captured the emotional and political resonances of movement in a beautifully staged and filmed Krump dance, highlighting the tension, fragility, resistance and tactility between black bodies. Nana Opoku literally took the time to care for us as a group in that moment, creating a space for us to rest and step out of the rush of our daily grinds.
Complex relationships with family and loved ones was at the heart of other works shared. The subtle gestures of tenderness, touch and control in Elisabeth Tomlinson’s film as she braids her sister’s hair, was a powerful metaphor for care as a relationship of love but also tension and pain. Nadia Rossi’s posters used conversations with her mother, a social care worker, to amplify the painful realities and injustices of the care industry, as well as the anger and resilience of those who work on the front lines.
These conversations about care realised their full gravity when Wamaitha Ng'ang'a returned to finish the course, having taken time out to finally undergo the spinal surgery she had been waiting years to receive. Her bravery in documenting this severe, incapacitating process let us witness the most intimate experience of care, as well as paying tribute to NHS care workers who treated her.
We are proud to share a selection of works from the artists below, with our final blog post on the theme of Future coming soon.
"I think of the EP as a digital container within which to drop and release feelings of grief, nostalgia, despair, so they can meet those of others. Trusting our bodies to teach us, that there is nothing inside that needs running away from, indefinitely."
Confluencia explores the overlaps between branding and identity, contemplating the relationship between Black male bodies and access to autonomies - whether that means a contradiction or a re-connection of parallels. As we watch we're exposed to a multilingual conversation, incorporating sounds by Zeroh and Yves Tumor, Krump dance signals and personal voice notes.
"What if care was the principle of art making? Care as a question to be interrogated. Care as a collective intention. And care as a manifesto of the creative process. Care for the subject in front of the camera and the artist behind. Care in the camera gaze as seeing in place of objectifying. Care in storytelling as an open source exchange between artist, performer, narrative, and audience. I made this work about care between sisters. I made it with care with my sister. It’s a simple work, short, bare, and direct: to be seen with care."
A series of nine posters created through conversations with Rossi's mum who has worked in social care in Scotland for over 40 years.
"A collage of images taken during my in-patient period after spine surgery. On the morning of the surgery, I was an independent woman, able to take care of myself. However, after seven and half hours of surgery, I lost the ability to walk, feed myself, wash or even hold a cup of water. I solely depended on a whole team of different people to nurse and take care of me. In 10 days I was discharged, walking again and with a bit of independence. There were no visitors allowed during the whole period because of Covid-19. The hospital staff become my family, my carers, a shoulder to lean on. I know the NHS is not perfect but I want to take this moment to celebrate the real heroes, those putting their lives at risk to care for other people.
It started on the 1st of November 2020, when an ambulance paramedic knocked on my door to take me to the Royal Orthopedic hospital, where I was going to have spinal fusion surgery the next day. It was very painful and terrifying to say goodbye to my family at our door, praying that I would make it back to them safe and sound. The paramedic, John, comforted me all the way to the hospital, reassuring me that all was going to be well. And from my head surgeon and consultant, to the nurses, health-care workers, porters, radiologists, cleaners to caterers, I received excellent CARE. And I knew I had to share my experience to say 'thank you'.
It is part of activism; highlighting the good the NHS does is important, especially in a time when it has been stretched to the maximum. I have developed complications from the surgery and I’m looking into having another surgery very soon. I will continue to fight for the NHS. Activism also means highlighting and amplifying the positive things whilst still fighting the shortcomings of an institution and its decision makers."
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Banner image: Elisabeth Tomlinson, Between Sisters, Control Isn't Feared [still], Video; 3 minutes 4 seconds, 2020
Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list