My artistic practice has focused on The Pansy Project for the last fifteen years; I plant pansies at sites of homophobia and transphobia, a politically and socially engaged project that explores the way we navigate cities as an LGBTQ+ community. As soon as the Lockdown in the UK was announced and in the face of cancellations and delays of most of my forthcoming work, I was bereft of motivation. I felt I had to reconsider my function as an artist in the midst of global pandemic.
House bound, and feeling emotionally blank and overwhelmed, I eventually began to consider what work would be relevant to a changed world. As I sat in my apartment overlooking a clearer, quieter London skyline, I noticed the birds more than ever and my passion for ornithology re-emerged. I began drawing the birds I could see from my window. Comforted by the process, I asked my social media followers if there was a bird, they’d like me to draw for a potential book, I expected a little flutter of interest.
Above the ‘advertising’ images that gently reference the birds drawn during #Lockdown.
What emerged was a wide variety of requests for bird drawings. Requests were often accompanied by an anecdote explaining their choice. I began drawing a bird for my followers, most days and now have a disparate collection of ornithological favourites, drawn in pen and coloured in Photoshop, creating an online network of bird lovers, sharing stories of the birds they love on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. My intention was to punctuate timelines with an alternative to the growing horrors of the pandemic. Stories of a consoling interest in bird watching during this crisis, reflected in the messages of support and encouragement I received during Lockdown.
In New York, on the 25th of May in the midst of the crisis, Christian Cooper went to Central Park to go birding, what transpired was a racially motivated event, Amy Cooper called 911, suggesting she was being attacked by an African American man, after an altercation about a dog and a leash. She weaponised her racism and a backlash in-sued. This happened on the same day George Floyd was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis, resulting in a much- needed escalation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
On social media, as #BlackBirdersWeek emerged in response to the events in Central Park, I wanted to draw a Kirtland’s Warbler in solidarity. Cooper mentioned the bird in an interview with The New York Times. This led me to research the symbolism of birds in popular culture. I began exploring the personal and political meaning of birds and I am developing research into the naming, categorisation, colonisation, capture and breeding of birds throughout history. This research bolsters the reading of the birds posted on social media and the personal and political become entwined. What began as a personal consolation for my own mental turmoil has (according to the messages I’ve recieved) offered some solace to the people that follow me. I am acutely aware of how lucky I am during this time and I’m hugely grateful to have the luxury of expressing myself creatively whilst others struggle to survive. My motivation as an artist has returned and in some small way, I hope these drawings contribute to the creative response artists a driven to make in troubled times.
For part of the Birds Can Fly project a drawing workshop and colouring and information sheets were produced to support educational needs of children in Lockdown.