Women Who Art For Justice and Joy

Hi Reader Friend,

Been a while since I have been here, and for that, I cannot say I’m sorry. Cherishing my children and protecting my emotional state has taken time the last few months, but here I am. And I have a light-hearted story for you today. One which involves watercolour and photography.

Hope you enjoy it. And please do find the links to the artists interviewed and enjoy their work. You won’t be disappointed. Thanks for reading with me.

Lauren


Two years ago, amidst just having given birth to a newborn who more or less slept all the time, I decided to give ‘art’ a go. I always imagined myself as a dungaree-wearing, Rachael McAdams in The Vow type, nestled in a house full of paint, plants, and self-designed creations. So at 30 years of age, I decided I would try it out, fully convinced I’d be phenomenal. Christmas presents consisted of an instruction manual, sketch pad, and charcoal pencils and I daily practised my new hobby, for a total of maybe seven days.

Art isn’t my forte, but I’ve recently spoken to two women who excel at it. Two women who have honed their skills over the years for both their own enjoyment, but also for the good of others. Two women who have used this year in quarantine to depict a historic time in history through the lenses of hospital staff and children.


Kate Grant is a full-time GP in Norfolk who currently shares time between Primary Care and the local hospital emergency department in Norfolk. In January 2020, when COVID wasn’t yet on our radars, Kate read a regional news report that the forthcoming annual budget for the hospital was apparently going to miss out on millions due to a previous annual overspend on staff and beds.  ‘I looked at all my hardworking colleagues, and felt like they were undervalued, but the patients and hospital couldn’t do without any of them in order to keep beds open. It was an overwhelming feeling of pride that money had surely been spent in the right places, rather than fresh paint, or some other project that could be delayed for another year.”

“I wanted to lift their spirits,” Kate recalls. In an effort to brighten the days of her beloved colleagues, she brushed up on her hidden painting skills. “I wanted to illustrate what they did every day by painting a journalistic diary of the workplace.”

And so her project began. Kate started taking photos of people at work during her shifts. She explained to patients she was doing a morale project and asked their consent to let her take photos of her colleague while they worked. She would then head home and brush stroke blues and purples and reds to create renditions of her friends, hard at work. 

Right as her project started, COVID fell upon the UK. Adrenaline, fear, confusion, pride, anger, grief – all the emotions we felt throughout the country – were amplified within our hospitals.

Kate kept working on new portraits each week with renewed vigour, eager to document the dedication and commitment of her colleagues. She wanted the paintings to feel authentic to the hospital and honour every aspect, every position, every moment. Kate depicted porters, nurses, doctors, admin staff, cleaners, surgeons, and GPs – dressing wounds, applying plaster casts, entering notes into the computer, washing hands, performing surgery, and taking blood. On her Instagram, she includes a narrative of each piece, honouring the person she has painted.

“Everyone has stories,” Kate says. “I wanted their stories to feel seen.”  Kate used her paintings to give life, to give compassion, to give pride – to those who had fought hard combatting an unforeseen virus. Her art wasn’t just art, it was, it is – joy.


The NHS was stretched thin this year, but so were children. Forced out of school, kids were thrust into a world of hand sanitiser, loneliness, and homeschooling. Some didn’t have gardens to play outside. Didn’t have the internet to access school lessons. Those who depended on free school meals had rumbling stomachs. Even those whose parents and homes were fully stocked with food and love had to find contentment without playmates, without grandparents, without school.

Scarlet Page is a well-renown photographer who has documented several celebrities over the years. She has been commissioned to work with Robbie Williams, The Foo Fighters, The Rolling Stones, and a host of others. But when lockdown literally locked her down, she began looking for a project that didn’t require international flights and high-profile musicians.

Seeing how the lockdown affected her own two children, she decided to start photographing children in her local area. Each night, once her husband got home from work, Scarlet grabbed her camera and headed out to gardens to snap moments of kids in their natural environments. “There is something so wonderful about children. They are so pure and you just want to dive into it. I love how you can capture that.” When photographing, Scarlet said she saw “all their little quirks” and wanted to depict them, protected by a comfort accessory, a ‘buddy’. In each shoot, the children she captured held a toy or cuddly, keeping them safe from the pandemic world that felt unknown and unpredictable.

As Scarlet worked to picture “something behind the mask”, she says she found “a real wisdom that showed through in the photos of the children.” Our children have been resilient this year, some say much more than many adults. Yet, Scarlet’s photos beautifully depict their vulnerabilities that we must not forget as we praise their strength.

Kate and Scarlet used their artistic abilities for more than just themselves this year. Their paintings and photos have created visual history for future generations to appreciate and honour, beauty to be praised, and bravery portrayed.

Hobbies with heart. Passion for purpose.


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