The Stories of Women

After a long break we are back with a new series of events at The Feminist Library. These will be for women only, though I would like to make a mixed event soon too, elsewhere. Also an event in Sheffield is in discussion! It is very special to be at The Feminist Library as naturally we share a lot of values. I have found it a very calm haven with so much richness stored in so many books and other archive material. There are publications you are unlikely to find anywhere else, and an incredible variety of female writing, from the cult to the little known.

I wanted to continue sharing the models’ voices with artists, and as well to celebrate the incredible breadth and diversity of female models. The idea of models expressing themselves whilst posing interests me, and not just with their bodies. Speaking of the nuances of feeling generated in pose, the different connections with people drawing, and how the practice or job sends ripples into their wider lives. Through sharing their thoughts we will spark some discussion about any issues or responses raised.

This introduction into a professional model’s interior world may warm participants up for trying some modelling themselves I hope! Naturally we welcome women who just want to draw as well. If cost is an issue please get in touch as it needn’t be. Some drawing materials and boards will be provided but by all means bring your own.

I am really excited to be presenting some wonderfully gifted and unusual women in this series. It is a chance to hear new stories in ways they perhaps haven’t been told before. Each session, the model will pose for the first 45 minutes, creating a sequence of poses to help with her presentation. She may not speak all the time. Her voice might have been pre-recorded if she prefers. She will sit, stand and elaborate for you, using her platform to engage you with particular matters pertaining to her experience. She may deliver poetry or make music. There may be a little movement. She will decide!

Our first model for the series will be Leo.

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Leo will be modelling at The Stories of Women on 17th July

Leo says, “I consider being a fat model a public service 😉. I hope other fat people are inspired to love their own bodies more.
body positivity and diversity is the key.”

Couldn’t agree more. It is very exciting to have Leo with us. She has a lot of experience and is a powerful figure with a strong mind. Please join us! Further dates and presenting models will be announced soon.

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“The Feminist Library is a large archive collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, particularly second-wave materials dating from the late 1960s to the 1990s.”

Tickets available here.

Returning to Scotland

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© Tatiana Moressoni, from Spirited Sound, November ’15

We are returning to Scotland as part of the Edinburgh festival, for one evening with All The Young Nudes on Tuesday 23 August, 8pm to 10pm, at the legendary Studio 24.

We invite those who would like to try life modelling but who wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance, as well as seasoned professional models who would enjoy creating group tableaux with us. This is unpaid but we are neither making a profit, nor even covering all expenses. We do this as a one-off because we love it, and want to share that passion in many exciting places.

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by Alex B, with The Drawing Theatre, 2012

Modelling as a group is different to solo, with its own dynamics and challenges. We will be there to offer support and guidance for those new to modelling, and to connect with like-minded professionals. This is a liberating practice with many benefits for all involved.

There are limited places for models so we would ask you to email us well in advance if you are interested, telling us a little about your reasons for wanting to join in. Email Esther at info.spiritedbodies@gmail.com

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© Tatiana Moressoni, from Spirited Sound, November ’15

We were last in Scotland 3 years ago and it was an absolute treat. On that occasion we worked with 3 different groups between Glasgow and Edinburgh over a few days. This is much shorter, as it was ATYN who got in touch to see if we might be about, and it’s all been arranged in the last few days.

ATYN are unique for being ‘life drawing set to music’, and not background either. It’s a bit like being in a nightclub, in fact it was last time in Glasgow, and it will be again this time in Edinburgh. Studio 24 is an alternative music venue that has been around since 1995 – a very special year for me as far as clubbing goes!

Really looking forward to taking Spirited Bodies outside London again, and reconnecting with our Scottish brothers and sisters, especially in this post-referendum madness.

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© Tatiana Moressoni, at Spirited Sound, November 2015

Spirited Sound, Love and Life

I want to begin a while back, because this road has been a long journey. This year has been more challenging, but also finally a turning point – in my art, with Spirited Bodies, and in my love life. It all happens at once, yet in stages. I get challenged about why I am sharing the personal, in an art project which is supposedly more for the benefit of others, and I respond, because when I was a younger woman I missed an older female role model, who had the appropriate life experience. I struggled with that, until things gradually fell more into place. I wouldn’t have listened to anyone who purported to understand, and I’d know if they really did. Any more privileged woman who thought she knew best, definitely didn’t. Now of course, I may be the more privileged woman for many, but I am happy to share that it hasn’t always felt thus, and if in some way my message can reach distant others, that is what was in my heart all along.

In short since late May, this year has included several frustrated attempts at connections with venues and individuals with whom I seemingly failed to build a rapport. Trans activists (who were not actually trans themselves) with whom it was impossible to have a sensible discussion about trans issues and how they intersect with the needs of cis women rape survivors in some cases. Competitive women with similar projects to mine, who either viewed me with suspicion, or just thought they knew better. Community collectives who were not open enough to host Spirited Bodies! What could be more appropriate for a community…?

Earlier in the Summer I met Sarah Kent at Brockley Open Studios, in my neighbourhood. We got chatting in artist Gill Hickman’s studio, and something resonated. I attended Sarah’s soundbath and experienced the healing sounds on the floor of her living room. I felt at ease with her, as well as moved by the intense yet soothing vibes. She said expect changes in the next few days, and ideally make space for them.

What I hadn’t known was that my old friend Michael, had died that day or the day before… and I found out a few hours after the soundbath. Michael’s death, for me marked a turning point, a shift of focus. In the middle of Summer this news penetrated layers of the fabric of my being. It took me back to the late 90s when I knew him best, the times and the company we shared. Though I had not been so in touch with Michael in recent years, his strong uncompromising world view sank into me as I relooked at the world through his imagined eyes and the filtered lens of the girl I used to be. Somehow both introvert and extrovert, rebellious, even fearless. The power of youth! While most of us had mellowed, to be fair including Michael in his own minor way, really he had sustained a strikingly similar mentality to what we all remembered. I instantly felt tougher, unaffected by petty crises previously around me. For a while I was invincible! Untouchable. I thought of Michael a lot.

With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s
With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s

My erstwhile longterm relationship that had been faltering, now felt briefly healing again. My partner, connected to the old tribe including Michael, understood intimately my feelings, but the ending of our relationship was imminent. We had drifted apart, and I craved cohesion in my life. A nervous breakdown at one of my modelling jobs alerted me that something had to give. I could not visualise a future that felt fitting, under my current circumstances. The breakdown involved intense feelings of being violated by the artists sculpting me, when in fact I was also aware that neither they nor the tutor (who is one of my favourites) was responsible. The conditions of my life were so disadvantaging me, that I could not see light in my routine. To make a success of my art projects I needed all energies and people in my life to point decidedly the same way, otherwise it was dissipating. I needed freedom. We technically had an open relationship, so when I did find closeness with a new partner, it took me a little while to realise that I could not be so intimate with two men simultaneously. The new relationship rapidly came to mean so much more to me than I could have anticipated. So intense is this new connection that it felt prudent to break up with Aaron. Simple is better; and freshly blossoming love deserves the richest, most fertile ground in which to take root.

In my new partner I found a fellow life model and writer, as well as an enthusiast of all my projects, sharing much passion in nude art adventures, and travel, something I had missed in the past. I also found so much love I hadn’t dreamed of, expected, in one with apparently such different background. His openness, sensitivity, intelligence and understanding take my breath away. As the Autumn took hold, this new excitement grew, and grows. I am in love.

Spirited Bodies again feels in a good place. I have resolved some issues, and feel confident about the involvement of men modelling again. For Spirited Sound I didn’t take any chances with male models. I knew all of the chosen ones personally and felt 100% safe with them. With the help of my partner and other trusted male models, we are creating an exceedingly safe space for everyone. That’s not to exclude the trusted women models from this equation, or the artists, but it was mainly an issue with deceptively inappropriate male models, so feels apt to be solved first, by male models.

All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15
All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15, at the Bargehouse, Oxo Building, Southbank

The healing power of Spirited Bodies is very important to me. I have explored this a few ways; in more intimate workshops, through interviewing models (and artists) about their experience and playing their recorded voices during sessions. Now with Spirited Sound, a new, more direct, less personal but more universal model has been born. The sound instantly seemed to free up the format, necessarily instigating greater experimentation. Traditional life drawing standards according to the wants of some artists are thrown out. This is all about the Spirited Bodies, and this time we tried some movement poses which was a beautiful way to discover even greater harmony as a group. Three minutes of very slowly opening up from a closed posture into something more expansive, and five minutes of flickering gently together, moving as flames of a fire burning brighter and closer.

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The session was divided into 4 sections, each representing an element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Shorter and movement poses in the first 2 parts, then longer poses for Water and Earth. The models connected with each other when they felt drawn to, as they collectively expressed themselves elementally. Dynamic and expansive for Fire, including a slightly longer Scene from Hell – the fallen among the devils. Light and floaty for Air, as well as being blown together in a very strong gust of wind. Flowing waves for Water where the models lay variously in a row, some interconnecting; and pure grounded connection for Earth, each model occupying their own comfortable (I hope!) space. It was a big pleasure to work with the group of models, several I have gotten to know over time with Spirited Bodies, including professionals who enjoy the deepening experience a lot. They create a warm atmosphere for any newcomer.

5 minutes blowing in the wind
5 minutes blowing in the wind

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Spirited Sound happened because I had connected with Sarah, and she was interested and happy to bring her sound art to Spirited Bodies. It was her idea to work with the elements as a theme, and she created sounds to fit each mood, to accompany and inspire the models (and artists), and weave a layer of vibrational texture into the space. There were bells, singing bowls (including one large one containing water), large gongs, a rainstick, a jingly instrument which when shaken lightly produces an array of gently tingling bell sounds of different notes.

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Spirited Bodies becomes something more layered with the inclusion of sound art; another type of art is intersecting with the life modelling and drawing. A new relationship emerges between musician and models (and artists). Is the sound influencing the models, or vice versa? A bit of an exchange for sure. At one end of the room Sarah laid out her instruments, from where she could see all the action (and stillness) of the models. Had we been in the larger attic space as originally planned, she may have arranged herself in more spread out fashion around the room in order to move about and be among artists and models, so that sounds would emerge from different areas and directions, possibly moving too. Sarah and her instruments could have been linked to the visual aspect of the artists’ attention, perhaps appearing in the art, as positioned within the scenes of poses. The attic also had a particular atmosphere which would have lent itself well to the gravitas of gongs, however it turned out that heating and lighting that space was a task beyond the electricity supply. It was great as it was, but it would also have been fantastic for Sarah to have been slightly more integrated with artists and models. Nevertheless, her presence and sound creation were deeply felt and appreciated by all. This was a joyful collaboration which I hope we may explore again.

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I feel more comfortable with the trans inclusion (to women’s sessions) now. This is very delicate, but it’s important to be open. I sometimes feel that a separate group for women only – excluding non-transitioned trans women – will be helpful (particularly for cis women rape survivors, of whom there are probably more than the entire population of non-transitioned trans women). I will tread carefully. One thought is that, if women’s events are open to all trans women regardless of transition, that gesture is what is important. Possibly those trans women themselves are not interested to come along, and may well realise that their inclusion can be tricky; without wanting to be divisive, there are very different needs at play.

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The issue of competitive women is being resolved too. I am not taking this personally, but see it as symptomatic of us women, learning how to share our power. This might seem odd to be so gendered, but I do think we are not so familiar as men are, with having power in the first place, and often if we do, we are encouraged to beat off the competition. This doesn’t make sense when our projects are about liberation and empowerment, for all, not just some elite. These higher principles must filter through otherwise projects will die.

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Leaving you with a few more pictures of artwork from Spirited Sound. We were very fortunate to have a lovely photographer with us at the event too, so there will be photos of the group of models to follow at some stage. Also, I am just planning an event for December, so keep looking out! And a blog post about the women’s event at Bargehouse will also come soon.

Watery bodies
Watery bodies

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With much gratitude to all the models, artists, and Sarah, as well as Kathy, Angie and Jenny from the Southbank Festival of Creativity at the Bargehouse

Tampering with Nature, & the Making of Ritual

I knew that Leytonstone wasn’t so much about the people I don’t know. My focus is definitely concentrated on the artistic and therapeutic direction, while my marketting skills are falling behind. On that front I really miss Lucy, but I wish her all the ground-breaking success she deserves in overcoming the skeptics and the nay-sayers on her quest to become a teacher – with a life modelling past. I mean it’s not like she can erase her name from press quotes relating to Spirited Bodies, so better to be upfront. I have a lot of faith in her. She is a great teacher and showed me much on the path to growing this project. The English education system is missing out enormously if it discriminates against those who have been or are life models. If it won’t accept her on those grounds, it is because it is not worthy of or ready for her. A pox on those naked fearing bureaucrats. If they knew Lucy they’d rewrite that protocol. It is time that any anti-naked religion took a hike. Early Christians knew that nudity meant being closer to God, free of society’s masks. This lingering, prevailing Victorian attitude needs to be dropped in a country, well a city at any rate that is more multi-cultural and integrated perhaps than any other on the planet. Let’s adopt some more timeless values. We are human animals for Goodness sake! Living in fear of man’s savage behaviour denies our higher feminine principles.

Back to Thursday evening. It was largely about my friends. I have the privilege of interviewing them, after all some have taken part in numerous Spirited Bodies events, and being friends I might catch them at more opportune moments. Other participants I didn’t know so well before, but now I do. Maybe we are friends now after sharing so much, but regardless I am grateful for the personal intimacy shared and aired. This ritual is growing as I learn incrementally how to work it.

These people have landed in all kinds of uncommonly normal circumstances. Overdue on their credit card payment, reacting unfavorably to high blood pressure medication, stuck in a job with the NHS administration that gives just 30 minutes for a lunch break, unable to chew their food properly, broken stomach, sexually abusive family, didn’t face their biggest fears till their 40s/50s/60s, tall but can’t walk without a stoop, have always had just enough so never been pushed to challenge themselves more, know there is something massively missing in their lives but no clue how to remedy.

If you are stuck in a rut, there seems no way out, just a long waiting game. A series of expected hospital appointments, courses of medication, rounds of relatives paying their respects. A gradually diminishing diet, bank account, and circle of friends. A partner oscillating between losing interest and reaffirming her raison d’etre. Just a few things are constant, you really get to know what they are. Maybe there is never really a partner, just a Mother, reluctant, unavailable and always in absentia. She can’t moan about you because she can’t even remember your name.

But if you have a chance you may describe the rut, listen to your voice, and watch others listen as they try to draw you. Do they get it? Do you gain something by hearing your voice amplified in a hall with others listening? Does it make the words sound more real, or like you are watching it on Jeremy Kyle? You hear the silence, sometimes a laugh when your audible sincerity hits a mark of recognition. Perhaps you sound daft, insecure or indulgent; but if you didn’t you wouldn’t sound like anything at all, and from awkwardness, at least you emerge with a voice.

There is responsibility; are these people vulnerable? Being exploited by me for dramatic material? One model reveals an undiagnosed personality disorder on tape. He has a nervous stutter, and describes a most unfortunate, horrific life, but is in the later portion of it. He is candid and unbothered by the consequences of openness – what does he have to lose? Not a lot I think. And he may gain more people understanding his shy, reserved character. Not just looking past him, perhaps imagining him as a creep – so quiet and nude, more than a little awkward. His voice has been heard, not overly edited to be politically correct. It is borderline but perhaps we need that, and to hear about mental health as it really is instead of carefully packaged to avoid lawsuits.

He stands alone, but he is supported by the others who are more comfy characters on their respective journeys. They are either artist or model, gaining experience or utterly professional as Ursula is. We hear their insights – on colleagues discovering their life modelling life, on the horrifying prospect of trying life modelling themselves, on the idea that men cannot help but look at women as objects; we hear advice from one who has overcome her fears to become a respected professional life model involved in theatrical events.

At some point I long to return to having a big event of the scale we have had with London Drawing in the past. I just need to be utterly sure of how that could manifest. Now that I have rebuilt the event with a therapeutic model, combining that with a stronger view of artists’ interests may come next. My shaman friend who attended on Thursday was inspired to write as well as draw during the session. She started describing to me a vision of how this could grow into a big healing and art event, with different types of artists, poets and alternative therapists joining in. That is a very beautiful idea.

Something else which enhanced our Leytonstone gig, was a playlist of music tracks to accompany each interview. After all, the zone of life drawing is a meditation, and too many words could get in the way of that.

Some pictures from the event; poses were between 1 and 20 minutes long

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Many thanks to all who made this event possible. The other thing I realised about how to run Spirited Bodies is, no one should make a profit from it, it is a labour of love. All proceeds are going to an orphanage in South India called Goodwill Homes (it turned out not to be the right time for the charity in Guatemala we originally had in mind). This is because the models are posing for free, and this needs to be for a higher purpose. I gain plenty in other ways from making it happen.

Human Orchestration, an explosion of nudity and sound

Dear Blog, this event has moved me; or rather it has been a culmination of a series of drives to ascend ourselves. We have created a new standard, a higher level of our art as models with a way to give voice to our internal thoughts and feelings, in the same time that we pose, collectively as a group. We communicate as one, individually audible, and collectively uplifted, empowered to speak back, feedback in real time, more than just a look or building up a feeling inside. This is a way to channel ourselves further into the art through the people drawing us.

I speak as if I posed, but really I was an orchestrator, conducting from the side. I was not even naked, but in my skin coloured body suit which is like being naked but with less definition, and room for a muffin top which otherwise doesn’t exist, squeezed up from tight leggings. I helped to deliver instructions, and as well I was a negotiator. London Drawing had their idea of what would happen, and sometimes the models had theirs. The balance was fine, and beautiful too. Spontaneity necessary, the models’ prerogative more than an important gesture, and truly the soul of Spirited Bodies. We are not just mannekins to be ordered by artists! We are creators too, and well we understand our craft, and what it might be to step outside of a comfort zone and the value therein.

With Ursula atop a pyramid of models, who were as Matt put it, “semi-autonomous noise generators”. Not entirely autonomous as they had to adhere to a few cues from myself as well as work as a group, listening to each other, and letting the sound come naturally from within them, or about their body, whether a note, a hum, a tap or a click. And Ursula led; although notes were preferred by London Drawing, she had a feeling to sing snippets of words too. I did not want to block this idea – nor could I – which was very creative and powerful. Ursula is a pun-meister and creates new arrangements of popular songs to suit the moment, in this case the present time of being drawn by artists. ‘Big Spender’ began, “Let me get straight to the paint!” (or was it ‘pen’?) At times she was not singing known songs, but rather voicing an undercurrent in the room, almost as if furniture could speak. “How do you feel when we are posing for you?” or something like, yet in sonorous tones. This part with the words was unrehearsed, and undiscussed. But the other models got it straight off and chimed in with their part, especially Tom and Christine our other professional singers.

The Church, St Johns, was perfect and seemed to beg our performance. With chairs neatly rowed for the usual practice, this awesome space demanded to be shaken extraordinarily, furniture strewn and space transformed. A light, almost completely open space with organ gallery at opposite end to altar, the high ceiling called down to us to fill it with our sound. Not just singing. Not how it has been done before, but something stretching the congregation to make it really listen, and to make a music out of just our everyday breathing, sighing, laughing and uttering, because we are celebrating the joy and wonder of being human for all our flaws, we are extraordinary too.

The Reverend Giles praised our art in spite of its controversial nature in the eyes of some of his congregation. He at least can see that the naked human is at the heart of Christianity. I suddenly felt like he was blessing our work, giving us Christian approval and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But it was a compliment and he was right. At Spirited Bodies we are about allowing people to find their truest selves without fear, to be the best that they can, in such a way that they must face themselves truly. There may be something Christian about that, and it is certainly spiritual. I had a very good feeling about Giles, welcoming us thus. He knew that we belonged there too. We offer something that his church also needs, and I really enjoyed this event more than any other.

Surprise when our models posed as artists. Horror when they gradually stripped off next to their unknowing neighbours – “will it be me next? Do I have to take my clothes off too?” Quite a few models remarked that this part – the first part – was similar to an event I and several of us took part in during the Summer at Guerilla Galleries, called ‘Inversed Voyeurism’. Turning the tables on people’s, especially artists’ expectations of the model, the idea that the model is something separate, like an object.

These were not typical Spirited Bodies, and yet they were also very typical. And very experienced. People who we have gotten to know, through our events and others like them. These people love to be part of nude art. Some will travel the world for good opportunities. Maybe it is their religion. As well a couple who were very new to what we do. A very nervous woman who fared very well.

A success of working relationships. Our 3rd collaboration with London Drawing. We get better at knowing what to expect and how to navigate the sticking points. And a growing team of dedicated Spirited Bodies; our soul is thriving, we just want to keep growing and travelling further with our shared passion.

The following photos of artwork are courtesy of Steve Ritter, who also wrote about Saturday’s experience; http://charoigne.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/a-human-orchestration/ as did Matt Whyndham; http://repulsivemonkey.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/life-modelling-3-and-bit.html In many ways they each have outlined more clearly what actually happened than I have, but it would be boring if we all wrote the same.

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capturing the architecture with the figures
capturing the architecture with the figures
Models interspersed amongst artists
Models interspersed amongst artists

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View from the gallery, art work spread on the aisle
View from the gallery, art work spread on the aisle

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the sum of our parts
the sum of our parts

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models singing an echo in a line
models singing an echo in a line

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A finale of models on a platform in front of the altar
A finale of models on a platform in front of the altar

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a sort of human pyramid
a sort of human pyramid

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a flaming cross
a flaming cross

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And from our life model friend Santosh who also took several photos:

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aisle Anne & David talking to the artists

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Rehearsing the final pose
Rehearsing the final pose
Setting up the 'singing drum' pose
Setting up the ‘singing drum’ pose in the morning

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Looking forward to more of such collaborations, with gratitude for a remarkable team effort on all sides, and the pleasure of enjoying some outstanding artwork.

Here is some more from artist Jess Miller; http://jessmillerart.com/2013/10/13/the-drawing-theatre-2013/

Favourite moments? (1) Seeing artists squirm as other ‘artists’ were given the nudge, and obliged by removing clothes. (2) Grinning fiendishly from the outside as the models raised their pitch and crossed into new territory empowered by voice. (3) Watching Morimda take the central standing position in the final piece, as the guy before needed a break. The symbolism of a black female replacing a white guy on the top spot gave me a big kick, and, after all, we wouldn’t be here without Morimda.

Will be sharing more pictures from London Drawing soon.