Are You Syrious?

…Talking of women with a passion….

My mate Fiver was in Jo’burg recently and she was riding on the crest of a creative wave which culminated in her first solo art exhibition. It will be showing in Brighton UK every weekend this month too, as part of the Artists Open Houses. I originally met Fiver in Brighton, on a brief creative writing course. On the 2nd week she gave me a lift to the train station afterwards and I mentioned our love of Lesotho. Rather than the standard “Eh? Where’s Lesotho?” response, Fiver yelled “I LOVE LESOTHO!! I’ve been to Maseru yes! I’ve travelled through that area where you lived” and we became instant friends. I mean what are the chances…??

I have napped on Fiver’s sofa a few times. Many more times though, we’ve come up with amazing plans over coffee in Hove Actually, and I’ve had to remind her (and myself) that I actually had children and needed to go home and heat up their fish fingers. Often she has given me a kick up the bum about this blog, including the time when she put a timer on and told me to choose a photo ‘by the time it buzzes, OK? GO.’ Lots of times I’ve been a bit in awe of Fiver, like when she casually told me she’d painted the rust onto the Haunted House at Alton Towers.

I know, she’s sounding like an imaginary friend – the kind that kids have, when they boast about implausible daring feats. “Well my friend drove all the way through Africa in a Land Rover then wrote a book about it, so there.” (Fiver really did do that too with her trusty husband Stuart – see here for proof).

So anyway, back to the exhibition in Johannesburg/ Brighton. Her 3 month surge of creativity came about because of a Facebook page called “Are you Syrious?” I’ve had a look at it and it’s a never-ending stream of stats and images from the scenes on the ground in the middle of the European refugee crisis. Even today as I’m writing, there’s news of an air strike on a refugee camp. Some people read this stuff and it just washes over their heads. Other people, like Fiver, find their blood boiling like fire over the injustice of it.

I’ve never really met Political Activist Fiver, the one who sat in front of army trucks, and broke into a nuclear base (NOT an imaginary friend, but a real person remember?) But she has been fired up recently, pouring out her feelings into this body of work. Eventually she started combining the refugees’ plight with her love of middle Eastern goddesses, who form the backdrop to their history and civilisation.

IMG_2756 During the process she sketched on her iPad, experimented with text and tried numerous combinations of protective icons with photos of refugees until things clicked. She spent days cutting lino for printing, experimented with layering, etching, trying mono printing then screen printing, then layers of both – it was a labour of love.

IMG_2754 (1) I was fascinated by Fiver’s thoughts as she talked us through those processes leading to the finished artwork. Who can put a price on the time and energy spent to create art? Even the thinking time alone, it’s unquantifiable.

Here’s a window into her thoughts: “How have normal words become insults? ….hoard…swarm…invasion….?…. Am I a ‘migrant’ now?…What does ‘home’ mean anyway?….. If you’re in a camp for 2 years, is that now your ‘home’?…..How do you physically feed your kids if you’re being shunted around continuously?..”

She chose the powerful icons of course, not the wimpy fertility ones or foodie ones. Chicks like Vanth the Etruscan warrior goddess, or Nut the Egyptian goddess of the night – seen here spanning the world from dusk ’til dawn – she sees them as role models for us today, protecting and covering the people, holding back that overwhelming stream of data from the newsfeed. She worked hard to show the humanity of the people, just trying to live their lives. And running throughout, the recurring word “HOME”.…

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I should only give you a glimpse so I’ll stop there. Maybe this time has been so powerful because Fiver can identify in a tiny way – she’s something of a nomad herself and has had to wrestle with local money, different languages, constant change… it’s hard work. She knows that just hitch hiking is hard, even if it’s legal – you end up relying on potentially terrible people. Maybe it’s because she was in Newtown, a predominantly muslim area of Jo’burg. Maybe it’s because she’d been to Syria and guess what – they were the nicest people on the trip. Whatever – it’s great work and I’m dead proud of her.

In Fiver’s words “We don’t get to decide ‘we don’t want these people’. We help.” If you feel the same and you’re near my old hometown of Worthing, have a look at www.samarasaidappeal.org or ask me for some friendly contacts.

At this point I’m thinking of Fiver and her big heart and I want to quote Psalm 41:

“Blessed are those who have regard for the weak.” Fiver doesn’t share my faith but she likes the God bits of this blog. In fact she said “Yeh we love your Jesus bits, they’re f***ing hilarious, especially when you start ranting!!” Ha ha! I think sometimes we christians need a few more Fivers to give us a kick-up-the-bum, and not just about choosing photos either.

ANYWAY if you can get to the Artists Open Houses, go to 6 Derek Avenue and have a look. Details on this facebook page

And if you see Fiver, please say hello and give her a big hug from me – you might find yourself caught up in A Big Adventure (so maybe leave some food at home with a label on it just in case).