Based in Hackney, Submit to Love Studios is home to a group of artists working collectively in an open studio environment. All of the artists have survived brain injuries – some use this to inform their work, while others take inspiration from the world around them. They have developed a set of unique practices and interests, refined over more than a decade.
The Common Threads exhibition was held at Autograph's gallery in London in 2021, and featured new work by 25 of the Studio's artists, using Autograph’s collection of photography as inspiration for textile works. Photographs charting the contribution of diverse cultures to Britain over two centuries were reimagined by the Studio as elaborate embroideries, appliqué and fabric prints. The artists used the collection as inspiration for self-portraiture, to reflect on personal histories.
Inspired by the collective’s lived experience of brain injury, Common Threads explored ideas of heritage, talent and otherness – and the many ways underrepresented stories can be told. In keeping with the Studio’s artists' ethos, a number of these works were created collaboratively. For many of the artists this is the first use of textile and embroidery in their practice.
This work is inspired by a Victorian photograph of an unidentified sitter, taken in the 1870s and part of Autograph’s Exhibition in a Box The Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles.
“I chose it because it reminds me of my past. The photo was taken in the 1870s but I updated it to the 1970s because that’s when I grew up, so I was juxtaposing it to mesh with my experience. The hairstyles, the clothing, the patterns, it’s all nostalgic."
— Brian Searle
Common Threads included portraits of the artists at Submit To Love Studios by photographer Leon Foggitt.
“My name is Cecil and I was born in Guyana in 1938. I wanted adventure so I saved up my money to make a trip to London. I arrived in the UK in 1958 as a stowaway on a ship. My artwork looks excellent because love and sentiment are included.”
— Cecil Waldron
This work is inspired by James Barnor’s photograph Eva, taken in London in the 1960s and represented in Autograph’s collection of photography.
“I enjoy doing it. I did a B Tec National Diploma in clothing manufacturing… It’s nice working collaboratively; as long as the other person enjoys it too.”
— Tirzah Mileham
Dixon's short film Chaos/Quest was created during a residency with the artists at Submit To Love Studios.
"The idea for this film stemmed from the book The Wounded Storyteller by Arthur W. Frank. This is a book that Submit To Love Studios artist Chris Miller shared with me, when I asked for reading recommendations on the politics surrounding health in contemporary British society.
Frank talks of storytelling as a tool for a person who has suffered trauma and lost the ‘destination and map’ that previously governed their lives. To create a new ‘destination and map’ a person must tell stories and share those stories with others, in order to build new structures of meaning and identity.
These ideas resonated with my learning from spending time with the artists at Submit to Love. The art studio and their practice seems (from my understanding) to offer a pathway from chaos to quest. From trauma to clarity."
— Posy Dixon
This embroidery was inspired by a Victorian photograph of John Xiniwe and Albert Jonas from Autograph’s Exhibition in a Box The Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles. The original image, courtesy of Hulton Archive, a division of Getty images, was taken by London Stereoscopic Company studios in 1891.
This work is inspired by a Victorian photograph of Peter Jackson taken by the London Stereoscopic Company in 1889. The original image, courtesy of Hulton Archive, a division of Getty images, is part of Autograph’s Exhibition in a Box The Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles.
“What is interesting with embroidery, is once you have the design and once you’ve made the decision on how you’re going to do things then you’ve got the structure there of a whole activity. What’s actually taking place is the mastering of the body over the material – that is to say, the mastering of the hands doing one stitch after another and what amazed me was the pleasure that people expressed when they’ve managed to do a stitch JUST as they wanted it. And that is really extraordinary.”
— Claudine Roux
This work is inspired by a photograph by Bandele ‘Tex’ Ajetunmobi, taken in the East End of London in c.1975, and represented in Autograph’s collection of photography.
“The pull of the thread seemed to bring together all kinds of artistic inclinations and paths of expression. Just doing it was enough for most of us, regardless of the finished item. We became whatever we were making, and whatever we were making became us.”
— Billy Mann
This work is inspired by Yinka Shonibare’s self-portrait Effnik, commissioned by Autograph in 1996.
“Art has played a big part in my positivity, people always say how good my drawings are and that makes me feel very good about myself.” “It was nice to do something different. I can use both of my hands, and I enjoyed trying to work out different patterns. It was nice to work with different materials and colours too, which I don’t normally do.”
— Sam Jevon
This work is based on a Victorian photograph of an unidentified sitter taken by the London Stereoscopic Company in 1890. The original image features in Autograph’s Exhibition in a Box The Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles, courtesy of Hulton Archive, a division of Getty images.
“The good thing about Submit to Love Studio is being able to work together. Working with other people who have the same injury as yourself, there is a shared unconscious knowledge. It’s good for teamwork because you need to look at a tiny area and you can lose sight of the bigger picture - the extra pair of eyes helps.”
— Mike Hoyle
“I didn’t like art at school because I was more of an academic. I am known as the book lady. Since I have been coming to Headway I was encouraged to try my hand at ceramics and painting. I found I had a liking for abstract art; it’s relaxing and everyone has a different interpretation of my work.
Recently, since having macular degeneration, I have lost confidence, but it doesn’t stop me. Even if you have sight loss you can still do something. My artwork shows that I am not giving up and all you need is love.”
— Dolores Crump
“I do art because I can. And because it’s something I don’t mind failing at – whereas learning to walk again, it did break my heart to fail at something so natural. This carefreeness makes the drawings lighter, less comforting, more free and more expressive. In art I can find a use for my mistakes.”
This work was inspired by Omar Victor Diop’s photograph Don Miguel De Castro, from his series Project Diaspora (2014). Diop’s photograph featured in Autograph’s 2018 exhibition Liberty / Diaspora.
“The sewing keeps me going and I find it skillful. I get more acquainted with my right-hand side.”
— Trevor Small
Works were shown by 25 artists from Submit to Love Studios: Tony Allen, Tony Brooks, Dolores Crump, Affiong Day, Errol Drysdale, Keith Emmanuel, Jason Ferry, Ken Hazeldine, Calvin Hill, Mike Hoyle, Sam Jevon, Sandra Lott, Theresa Malcolm, Billy Mann, Marcus Mann, Yoki Mekuria, Tirzah Mileham, Chris Miller, Brian Searle, Alex Sherlock, Trevor Small, Evaldas Sorocinskis, Diana Takyi, Mark Taylor and Cecil Waldron.
The Studio artists' work appeared alongside a selection of portraits of the artists by photographer Leon Foggitt, and a short film by Posy Dixon.
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Common Threads was curated by Michelle Carlile, Ali Eisa and Lucy Keany.
Part of the EXPLORERS project, delivered by Project Art Works, a three-year programme of art and conversation working with 12 national art organisations. The EXPLORERS programme is informed and led by neurodiverse communities, placing them at the heart of social, civic and cultural activity.
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