Here and Now
May 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
Since 2006 I have been collecting a range of 1960s/70s children’s vintage Ladybird Books. My research into the intriguing imagery and literature of these fascinating books, has acted as a spring-board for me to explore, examine,response and create a new body of work -Here and Now.
I currently have four works from this series on display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s exhibition ‘For The Record’. The four art works are ‘ works in progress’; I often test my work in a public/gallery space as a series develops. The work will be on display until 29th June 2014.
HERE AND NOW
All us of a certain age grew up with Ladybird children’s books. My sense of the world, of history, of society, of the family, all these things and more were influenced, even shaped, by my reading of these books. There was something comforting, something ordered, something civil and polite, about the ways in which the stories – both fictional and non-fictional – of Ladybird books were constructed. Women had certain roles, evocative of domesticity and motherhood. Fathers similarly had fixed roles, as faithful providers and the embodiment of a stable masculine presence around the home. Children too were presented as the embodiments of innocence – a world away from the predatory menace that seems to hang over pretty much all images of children that our society currently generates.
I am hugely conflicted about my memory of Ladybird children’s books. On the one hand, I recall a world of stifling conformity, with everything, and everyone, in its, or in his or her place. And yet, I find myself somewhat nostalgic for the world these books created. Civilised society, obliging shop assistants, a local high street full of butchers and bakers and candlestick makers. In other words, Ladybird books, as I recall them, presented themselves as safe and comforting spaces. I must also admit to strong feelings of pride, empathy and a little curiosity whenever I read stories that touched on Africa and its peoples. Seeing people who were Black like me, presented in ways that, whilst not unproblematic, were in so many ways better than the poisonous, disrespectful and skewed images of Black people so readily available in today’s society.
This new body of work that I have made represents my somewhat conflicted attempts to recall, and indeed come to terms with, Ladybird children’s books. If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit to thinking that a pronounced conservatism ran through the Ladybird books that were so much a part of my childhood. And yet, these images and narratives so often presented notions of stability, ambition, the professions, responsibility and other ideas that even today, many years later, so many of us as Black people are finding these things to be beyond reach.
This series of work is my attempt to comment on the intriguing ways I recall the narratives of Ladybird children’s book. Chances are, audiences over a certain age will have their own curious mix of empathy and disconnect that the illustrations in Ladybird books evoke.