by Alysha Shariff and Antoinette Wentworth-Smith
After an hour of standing in the cold and breathing in second-hand smoke, We were finally brought into the building. We walked into a perfect cross between a gallery and a club – paintings of bare nipples accompanied by electric dance music.
Neon lighting bounced off of exposed pipes giving the basement a surrealistic red hue.
We could barely even see the art due to the super trendy crowd, all so at home in a creative haven of Shoreditch, East London.Whilst millennial pink was featured heavily throughout the space, the exhibit was definitely not the mainstream version of ‘girl power’.
Paintings, illustrations, and photography featured nude women, uncensored, unsexualised, and strong.
Girls huddled together took selfies and pictures both with and of the art, which was a motivation for the show itself – creating a space for women.
Given was motivated to work on the show after realising that both men and women have misconstrued ideas about what feminism is. “It started this thing burning inside of me that told me I had to let people know how it is, and that my art could be the catalyst for these ideas and observations I had made,” she says.
Matching her illustrations, dressed head to toe in bright vivid colours and bold textures, Given embodies every inch of a young creative as she buzzed around the exhibition taking in all of her hard work over the past few weeks.
With a G&T in hand to calm her nerves, Florence was completely overwhelmed by it all. “There were hundreds of people already in a queue by five o’clock and the doors didn’t even open until six! The queue went right around the block until it finished at 11.”DJs Elkka and Judo played back-to-back beats as part of Given’s collaboration with Creative Debuts, which made the opening night seem like a scene from Skins. As the two artists danced together in their booth under artist Eve De Haan’s neon sign, so did everyone else, even Given herself.
“We saw the show online and thought it would be something we would love to connect with and contribute to so got in touch and they were already aware of what we did – from there it was an obvious partnership,” said the duo, who do not bind themselves solely to art shows and claim that curating and playing at club nights is an entirely different enjoyment.
“What we do love about playing at art installations is that we get to immerse ourselves in an environment where we’re breathing, playing, and admiring art, all at the same time”.
Priding themselves on being more than just a record label, Elkka and Ludo have organised photography exhibitions, film screenings and more through Femme Culture. “We admire and respect all the different manifestations of art so for us to perform at an installation means that we are exposed to something so similar but so different to our musical art… and it’s beautifully inspiring.”
Taking Given’s vision and turning it into a reality, the show would not have been possible without the backing of Creative Debuts.
Priding themselves on “creating an inclusive space where everyone is welcome to come, see amazing art, have fun, let go and feel part of a creative community”, it is key to co-founders Calum Hall and Alex Rollings that their events are made as accessible as possible by making them free to attend (unless they are raising money for charity).
Running at least 20 events a year, Creative Debuts started as an online platform for young emerging artists. “The digital landscape is really important these days, but there’s nothing like seeing the artwork in the flesh to really bring the piece to life; we see the events as a physical celebration of each artist’s work and our community as a lot of the artists have never exhibited before.”
Having previously collaborated with them for a show in April last year after finding them online, she stayed in close contact with the team throughout summer, but it was not until her first term of the university at the London College of Fashion that they wanted her to put on her own exhibition.
“It was a great relief working with Creative Debuts because they organised the stuff we needed for the night such as security, booze, music and of course the incredible space on Curtain Road. It was a great feeling knowing that they trusted me enough to do my own thing.”
The team themselves are approachable and relatable, as I stood outside, on the street corner ‘smoking area’ chatting to a few of them. Being born out of the frustration the co-owners both experienced first hand as emerging artists, they now provide their artists with a risk-free playground to experiment and evolve their practice.
As a company that profits only if and when their artists make money, it creates a reassurance and a bond between the artists and the platform that they are focused on changing the art world for the benefit of the artists.
All the artists have one strong influence in common, themselves and their experiences.Photographer Kat Miller became a part of the show after seeing Given curating the show via social media and flew to London last minute from Ohio, USA to witness the show in person.
“I had been following Given’s Instagram for a while and reached out to see if I could be involved at all. This is where the power of social media really shows it’s strength; I mean, ten years ago I wouldn’t have heard about the show and been able to be featured in it!”
Miller’s portfolio has strong themes of young womanhood, in a style that is soft yet raw, achieved by using dreamy blue and purple hues. “The idea of girlhood is such an inspiration for me. Remembering the strange tensions and pure ideas from my childhood really come through in my work”. Miller also cites photographers Justine Kurland and Katy Grannan, and films – including the cult classic The Virgin Suicides.
On the show, Miller says: “Showing within this amazing group of female artists was so special. It was such an important show in providing a space for our artwork to be shown uninterrupted.”With the euphoric sounds of Femme Culture playing in the background, Libido’s contrast of pastel colours yet honest.
With visions of soft pink pastels, you would normally think of childish femininity, which is a stark contrast from Libido’s black comedy-esque illustrations.
‘Venus Libido‘ was born after the south English artist began posting on Instagram: “I started illustrating at the start of 2017, but it was mainly just a form of release for me. I began to get messages saying how much people related to my drawings, and so I continued creating”.
Drawing from her own body, Libido’s illustrations tend to come from dark places in her mind making her work personal and raw, which inspires her surrealist dick crushing illustrations. Libido says: “I tend to draw from the own darkness in my life to make others feel better about their own.”
After graduating from school, Libido went straight into full-time jobs within the art industry, where she experienced and witnessed various forms of sexual harassment and inequality; including verbal abuse, unequal pay and even witnessing men commit acts of sexual assault.
Speaking on the importance of women in art, both their place and role in the industry, Libido says: “No one ever told me it was OK to speak up, and say no when something wasn’t right. So I think it’s important to make it clear that you can use your voice and speak up and to not be silenced. Don’t sit back and be quiet, fucking do something about it.”
Creative Debuts was born out of the frustration that both Hall and Rollings had as emerging artists, and it is this first-hand experience which makes their passion and drives so comforting. Tackling the problem head on, Hall explained how equality for women is not just a women’s issue but one for society as a whole.
“Change requires a collaborative approach that opens up dialogue, so men have to be part of that process. As a platform, we believe it’s important to shine a light on emerging talent, including female artists that often feel marginalised by the art world.”
Girls, Uninterrupted is not the first feminist lead show Creative Debuts have curated. In September 2017 they successfully launched their Nasty Women art show with over 3,000 people attending the opening night alone. “We try to listen hard to our community and represent their views. Last year many of our female artists expressed the challenges they have faced in the being recognised, exhibited and selling their work”.The negative stigma surrounding young artists didn’t hinder Flo’s process of being a first-time curator, but instead further excelled her passion to create such a provocative space. “If there’s something you want to do or achieve in life as an artist especially, you just have to go out and do it”.
In her usual manner of being frank, Given simply described the curation as ‘very bloody hard’. “From start to finish of the planning process I got everything done on my own. That’s the poster, handling submissions, selecting artwork, getting works shipped from international countries and even printing and framing some artists work myself”.
Given’s playful yet daring illustrations hung proudly on the white walls of Curtain Road gallery welcoming a crowd of shocked yet impressed viewers. Given’s artwork is audacious/brazen when it comes to portraying across her message, with captions like ‘still not asking for it’ and ‘off for shag’ printed firmly under a portrayal of your everyday women; nipples out, cigarettes lit, and full red lips making a statement.<
Given’s art stands out even in feminist circles, due to its raw content and striking, explicit phrases. The young artist takes inspiration from fashion illustrator Julie Verhoeven, who also depicts naked women and the celebratory element of it that encourages female empowerment.
“If I want to empower women and make them change the way they think about themselves, I need to make it gripping … I think it’s important in this generation for things to be easily accessible and quick, in a world where we have fast food and instant-gratification from uploading a selfie to Instagram and seeing all the comments flood in, you only have a few seconds to get your point across, else people just won’t listen”.
With the combination of art and social media in the 21st century giving everyone a voice, the subject of feminism is a widely debated topic, even amongst feminists themselves. As global movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp are becoming huge, women are now speaking up more about their experiences when it comes to sexual harassment, and society is starting to listen.
After 24 hours of actress Alyssa Milano using the hashtag #MeToo, more than 500,000 tweets and 12 million Facebook posts had been shared with the phrase.
“The more people tell you they believe in your message and what you’re doing, the more you’re encouraged to keep working on your game and empowering women.” Feminism has often received backlash in the past as it has not always been inclusive and intersectional. “The negative portrayal of feminism is that it’s only for white [cis]women.”“If your ‘feminism’ is only for white women who can’t get their nipples out, if you can’t get your head around people who are transgender, then you are not a feminist. If you are a ‘feminist’ but you shame other women for having lots of sex with lots of men, you are not a feminist”.
Since the opening night less than two weeks ago, Florence has already had her work featured on Teen Vogue as well as GurlsTalks Instagram page, a social media account embodying the movement of women in art. With many artists selling their pieces at the show, the exhibition was a great networking event for like-minded talents with talks of future commissions and collaborations with other artists.
Whilst exhibits will no longer be held at 115 Curtain Road, Creative Debuts lives on in their future exhibitions. The young creatives plan to continue supporting the movement by joining forces with Nasty Women to celebrate the work of international feminist artists through their upcoming show, Nasty Women Exhibition: Empowerment.
As for her future, Given prepares to be part of the Nasty Women exhibition, which debuts March 8 for International Women’s Day. She is also discussing Girls, Uninterrupted Part 2, more illustrations, more collaborations, and has just launched her own T-shirts, which are just as “cut-throat and nasty” as her illustrations.
Featured image and slideshow images by Antoinette Wentworth-Smith