Nottingham Contemporary's Loudspeaker: An Artist-Led Creative Project Encouraging Women to Express Themselves

Words: Laura-Jade Vaughan
Monday 17 May 2021
reading time: min, words

Art Co-Editor Laura-Jade Vaughan explores the impact of Loudspeaker, Nottingham Contemporary’s artist-led creative project for women looking to explore contemporary art, express themselves and develop their self-confidence in a safe and fun environment...

For many of us, the past year might have left us feeling stuck in a bit of rut – craving new experiences, chances to meet new people, and opportunities to be creative. In contrast, Nottingham Contemporary’s Loudspeaker programme has offered some women the chance to take part in a ten-week creative project inspired by the gallery’s exhibitions.

Over the course of the pandemic, Nottingham Contemporary ran two Loudspeaker projects with eighteen women from the East Midlands. “Loudspeaker is a unique project that uses our exhibitions and creativity to make a crucial difference in women’s lives,” Katy Culbard, Loudspeaker Programme Manager explains. “We support women in difficult circumstances, drawing on an extensive network of referral partners to ensure we reach and support women. As a cultural partner, we use our unique position to demonstrate how galleries, visual arts and creativity can help bring life-changing benefits.”

Loudspeaker has been running at Nottingham Contemporary since 2016, but in the past year, due to the pandemic, the sessions have been delivered to participants through screens and letterboxes. Rather than in-person workshops, the sessions took place on video calls facilitated by artist Gillian Brent. The women creatively responded to the Contemporary’s exhibitions Grace Before Jones and Jimmy Robert: Akimbo, which they experienced through virtual reality scans (these are publicly available on Nottingham Contemporary’s website). After sharing their responses to the artworks through conversation, the women then created their own artistic interpretations using a range of art materials provided by post.

The exhibitions stimulated conversations around issues of feminism, race and identity, often resonating with the women in varied ways. For some of the participants, Grace Jones – both her artistry and values – was a source of inspiration. “She is an icon for being different and accepting yourself for who you are and showing that proudly no matter how much others will judge. She has strength that I really appreciate and should present in myself.” Another participant echoes, “I was inspired by the confidence of Grace Jones and her ability to take risks. The artwork helped me to reflect upon different ways to be heard and also encouraged me to reflect upon how I have lost my own confidence and voice and the need to recover these.” 

The sessions were varied in terms of both concept and medium, and involved: questioning the significance of public monuments, especially since the Black Lives Matter protests; using collage to depict extreme poses inspired by Grace Jones’ iconic Island Life album cover; creating viewfinders to photograph places in homes which are awkwardly designed; abstract collages inspired by fashion and assembling found objects to tell a story. Through the project, one of the participants reflected, “it made me realise that art can be very versatile and it does not only consist of painting and drawing. Art can mean different things to different people and it’s enjoyable to listen to what people think about certain art.”

At the heart of Loudspeaker is the idea of creating a safe and supportive environment, where women are encouraged to see things differently, feel positive about the future and move away from challenging circumstances. It is a space to be inspired, build confidence, connect with other women and form new friendships. Reflecting the project’s aims, one of the women describes her personal experience or participating. “It has increased my confidence and has given me the space to be myself again. It has helped me control my anxiety and to begin to see a way forward and I have always felt safe and heard. Receiving the parcel each week reminded me to keep moving forward. This project was a lot of fun.”

For many participants, creating artwork was a new experience, and a chance to step out of their comfort zone. As one woman explained, “I didn't think I would be any good, with it being art, but I’m so glad I did do it because now, in future, I have the attitude of ‘it doesn't matter if I’m not the best at it, as long as I try’, because just trying gave me some sort of satisfaction and proudness of my work.”

Rather than an in-person exhibition, photographs of their artworks have been turned into books, Not Just Black and White and Exploring Creative Ambitions available to view on Nottingham Contemporary’s website.

The Loudspeaker programme is delivered by Nottingham Contemporary as part of the Opportunity and Change project, which is funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund

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