Set in the picturesque Paxton Centre at the heart of Crystal Palace, Everyone Reflects Light is an emotive exhibition that was launched this October. The Paxton Centre also doubles as a snug co-working space, a sanctuary offering hot drinks and cakes to those seeking a serene place to get their work done, or simply be inspired.
Organised by South London Women Artists (SLWA), the exhibit showcases a range of paintings, collages and ceramic work inspired by the artist’s own experience with mental health, and their resilience in dark times. This collection is a celebration of women and the strength within each of them. The exhibit was filled with touching works by some of South London’s finest critically acclaimed female artists. such as Angele Lautier and Michelle Baharier.
“Each artist interprets their world differently, exploring emotional states, often through their own lived experience, expressed with a skill and liberating honesty, through painting, print making, photography and sculpture,” Michelle Baharier, acting chair of SLWA, explains.
“The exhibition brings a sense of optimism and resilience, with many artists offering bold statements in colour and form, as we move on from the pandemic, while others are still exploring the challenges of a difficult winter ahead. This exhibition is here to remind us of our inner strength can shine a light on the pathway ahead.”
The title of the exhibition is particularly moving, and Michelle tells us that “the title of the exhibition is about balance: good and bad. You know, because mental health isn’t just negative, it’s also positive. I came here and met Beth, who owns the café, and we were talking about people’s mental health at the moment. We thought that it’d be nice for the exhibition to start up conversations for people surrounding mental health, so that they could come here, and with help from the art, that would get them talking.”
Michelle had several of her pieces on display, including Gloria [above], a distinctly colourful portrait of one of her closest friends. She explains how Gloria assisted her and her husband when he had Covid prior to the first lockdown: “Gloria was really helpful, and understanding. My partner had Covid, before the first lockdown. She was always there for us. This was before we knew what Covid was – and she often looked shocked when she came to help. You can really tell it is her when she stands next to it, she’s about six foot four, and has goofy teeth just like that. She’s a very kind, and tall Amazonian-esque woman.
“This piece is not just called Gloria because of my friend, it is also inspired by the song Gloria (1964) by Them. It was later adulterated and rewritten by Patti Smith, and it found that so inspiring.”
Angele is a Maltese artist living and working in Crystal Palace. She has two paintings from her Femella collection on display at this exhibition. She tells Artefact that “these characters collectively remind us of the joyful and stoic disguise that women wear at different stages of their life.
“They evoke pain and pleasure, whilst juggling the bitter sweetness of motherhood and maturity. They possess desire and vulnerability through their voluptuous nakedness. They express freedom in their repression. In this collection, Femella invites us to empathise with these women, either as a voyeur or as an equal, and accept that by having this conversation, we are lifting the taboo for our female comrades.”
The first of her paintings on display, Lethola (right), highlights common symptoms of the menopause. Angele adds that “Lethola originates from the Greek word, lēthargos, meaning lethargy and loss of memory. For women of my age, the topical conversation we are having is about the menopause, so Lethola is one of those women dealing with these symptoms. “
Her paintings are colourful, deeply emotive, and filled to the brim with symbolism. Although Angele considers herself a sculpture artist, her canvas work is undeniably refined. Her work is inspired by her Maltese heritage, and she highlights that “the reason these women are all big, healthy, buxom women is because they are inspired by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Fertility, whose image is very prevalent in Malta. A lot of my work is autobiographical, in terms of it relates to me and my heritage, with influence from the things I am currently going through.”
In this painting, there is a lot of different symbols coinciding with one another. Angele laughs, and tells Artefact that “I don’t want to give too much away – so it’s left open to interpretation. I know what each element of the painting symbolises, but other women may interpret each part differently.
“When most of us become mothers, it’s a big chunk of a woman’s life taken away from her own self-development, career-wise, society-wise, economically-wise. You are uprooted from that situation, and you are told to nurture these offspring, and then when they grow up and leave, and you are back to square one, scratching your head thinking ‘Where did all those years go? Who am I?’ and you are thrown back into the world, and you have to reinvent yourself. But we do! We are strong every step of the way, we take it on as a challenge, and this collective is here to hopefully inspire women, to not be deterred by any new challenges they face, if anything to embrace it.”
Her second painting on display from her collection is titled Bellisle. Angele describes the woman as “sitting on what looks like a little island that she has drawn around herself, to protect herself and to have her own little fantasy space that is her happy safe place. Where Lethola is showing us ‘this is what is going on, just deal with it’, Bellisle is showing us ‘this is how I cope, this is my way of dealing with these stresses’.”
Michelle’s pieces are insightful, colourful, and distinctly hers. Namely, her piece titled The Woman In The Golden Dress [right] is particularly emotive and is inspired by her Jewish heritage. She tells Artefact that this piece is “about the Gustav Klimt painting, The Woman in Gold, which was taken by the Nazi-allied Viennese government into their collection in 1941. This is one of my older pieces, and this is not my usual subject matter. However, I am a Jewish woman, and the story of how the family fought to get the portrait back out of the hands of the Nazi’s is really important to me, and evokes all sorts of emotions.”
Both Angele and Michelle are exceptional creatives, and the SLWA collective is a group to keep in mind. Angele highlights that “these paintings are not a whinge about being a woman – they are a part of a joyful collection to inspire women of all ages to just get on with it, celebrate womanhood, and live life to the fullest.”
The full list of featured artists include: Helen Adie, Michelle Baharier, Pat Cove, Claire Dorey, Jo Gibbs, Julia de Greff, Sam Haynes, Elena Howard, Ekaterini Koliakou, Angele Lautier, Ky Lewis, Yoke Matze, Rachel Reid, Sonia Thomas, Veena Scialó, Mariona Ranera, Asia Nowicki and Maria Beddoes.
Everyone Reflects Light exhibition by South London Women Artists at The Paxton Centre, 52 Anerley Hill, Crystal Palace, SE19 2AE – October 7th-31st, 2022
Featured image of works by the SWLA collective [Michelle Baharier, Angele Lautier, Sonia Thomas, Helen Adie] photographed by Rella Jefferies.