ZERRIN’s Shared Journeys series spotlights individuals from various walks of life. Their backgrounds and experiences may differ, but they have all developed one thing in common: a strong sense of connectedness to themselves, to others and to the world around them.
This week, we chatted to Vix Harris, a well-travelled artist whose designs feature fierce, inspirational women from different backgrounds and cultures.
Tell us a bit about you and your background.
I’m a British artist currently based in Singapore, but I spent part of my early childhood living in Africa (mainly Kenya and Malawi). I have also been living and working abroad as an English teacher for the last 18 years. I graduated from Winchester School of Art with a degree in textile design in the late 90s. However, I then became disillusioned with the industry after I couldn’t find a job. That’s when I ‘gave up’ art and decided to travel instead. I only started drawing again in 2012 while I was living and working in Vietnam.
When did you first get into drawing?
I’ve drawn and painted from a really young age and spent hours as a child making random things out of toilet rolls and foil! It never bored me. More recently, my drawing has become more about pattern and shape, and much more spontaneous. When I was an art student, I used to draw all my designs out beforehand and spend ages trying to ‘perfect’ them but now I just put pen to paper (or iPad) and see where it takes me.
Tell us what inspired your #50RebelWomen project series and what the motifs in your work signify.
I started the project because I had begun drawing again after a long break (over a decade) and I knew I needed to practise more in order to get better; this was going to mean producing more regular work and making sure I was holding myself accountable. I wanted to create work that was informative as well as nice to look at. So I came up with the idea to illustrate a photo a week (for 50 weeks) of a woman I respected and admired. I have always considered myself a feminist and in 2016 when I started the project, women’s rights issues were starting to seep into the mainstream media and garner more attention. I posted each design on Instagram and Facebook along with a short bio and an empowering quote. It started from there and gained traction as the project developed.
The motifs kind of developed organically. I just added patterns to each design as I worked and then began to realise that some of these patterns represented things that were very important to me. Most of my Rebel Women are surrounded by leaves and lush vegetation. This comes from my love of nature and the strong connection between women and the natural world. The little rainbows are also symbols of how wondrous nature can be, but they also represent equality and my support for the LGBTQIA community. Finally, the ‘power lines’ emanating from the women’s mouths and bodies represent strength, resilience and speaking truth to power (which seems even more relevant now after the Kavanaugh hearing and the more recent ‘Surviving R.Kelly’ documentary series). I wanted to celebrate women speaking up and finally being heard.
How do you feel that art can empower women?
I think firstly, and most importantly, art can unite. As I’m typing this, women are gathering in London for what has now become an annual event, the Women’s March. Many are holding banners, placards and posters which they’ve designed and made themselves. It used to be that the art world was quite elitist only really accessible to the privileged few, but since the advent of the internet, anyone can create something and share it online, and then connect with others who are doing the same. Instagram has been a game-changer for me simply because I can put my art out into the world and reach so many people with just the click of a button.
I’ve made so many amazing connections with other women artists and collaborated with photographers to create new work. There are so many fantastic accounts on there which uplift and empower women with inspirational quotes, illustrations and videos. To me, art is not just about selling paintings in a gallery for thousands of pounds. It’s also about making connections, inspiring others and creating something powerful and beautiful which everyone can have access to.
“It used to be that the art world was quite elitist only really accessible to the privileged few, but since the advent of the internet, anyone can create something and share it online, and then connect with others who are doing the same.”
In what way have your intersectional feminist beliefs influenced your art?
My feminism is a huge part of who I am as a person. So of course, I will reflect it in the work I create. When I started my #50RebelWomen project it was incredibly important to me to represent and celebrate women from all cultures and backgrounds. Having said that, I look back now and realise that the project wasn’t as inclusive as I’d thought. I chose able-bodied women, and none of them was trans women or gender fluid. This is part of the reason that I want to start work on a #50RebelWomen ‘reboot’. So that I can correct these oversights and make the project much more intersectional. As one of my original Rebel Women, Maya Angelou, said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
“To me, art is not just about selling paintings in a gallery for thousands of pounds. It’s also about making connections, inspiring others and creating something powerful and beautiful which everyone can have access to.”
Who or what inspires you most to do what you do?
Wow, great question! Of course, I am inspired by the artists getting up every day and producing incredible work whether they’re being paid for it or not. My surroundings and the incredible beauty of nature constantly inspires me. But I think, most importantly, I am inspired by women, all over the world, standing up and speaking out. The women who have been harassed, assaulted, belittled, overlooked and trodden on, but who still have the power and resilience to hold others accountable and make sure their stories are heard. The work I produce, and the energy I put into it, is for them.
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Susannah believes better design can help create a brighter future. A former magazine editor, she now runs ZERRIN and works at the intersection of consumers, brands and sustainability advocacy.