From 2007-2021 artist Lois Blackburn and poet Philip Davenport collaborated with marginalised people, making new, previously-unheard histories, told with stitch and poetry. Often working people affected by homelessness and people with dementia, the makers also included holocaust survivors, war widows, refugees, young offenders, excluded school students and many more people in North West England and beyond.
The projects challenged stereotypes and celebrated diverse voices, intertwining poems, artworks, calligraphy and songs.
Most recently, A Book of Ours (2021) was a medieval-style illuminated manuscript handmade by over 100 people with experience of homelessness, which was launched at Manchester Cathedral: “This book, here you have our world at your fingertips. Damaged in every bloody way, look at the state of us. We are terrible and we are beautiful.” Chris Keane
Standout projects include the Homeless Library 2016, the first-ever history of British homelessness, exhibited at the Houses of Parliament and the Southbank. The War Widows’ quilt stitched together artworks, poems and personal testimony. Bring Light Towards You showed poetry animations by holocaust survivors on public screens at Piccadilly Railway Station.
Quilts were a way of making many-handed work, for example The Bombers Moon quilt is a textile artwork that’s both an aerial view of Derbyshire and a war poem that subtly changes sides. The poems and stitches record histories of hurting and also of healing. Just as a wound can be stitched, perhaps memories can be stitched too. Look carefully at these threads, these traces, they are another kind of telling…
All the projects combined art and poetry exploring many paths towards the telling of people’s stories. A series of books documents some of them — starting with Patience (2009), a journey through hospital co-made with older people, gathering depictions of how it feels to be a patient. the warm /&/ the cold (2018) is a poetic epic, interleaving homeless lives, a dementia club, young offenders and a community group of older people.
Songwriting, calligraphy, pottery, filmmaking, sound art, concrete poetry, visual poetry… Not only did arthur+martha challenge societal boundaries, they also played beyond the artistic goal posts. The quilts were stitched pages carrying poems that blossomed with rich colours and deep emotion. Oral histories became verses, entwined with drawings, or morphed into songs.
Many of the pieces were exhibited at iconic venues, bringing these words and visions to wide audiences: the Houses of Parliament, the Queen’s House, Manchester Cathedral, Brighton Dome, Piccadilly Railway Station. All projects were shared in places and ways that the makers themselves could access and witness.
From 2007-21, Davenport and Blackburn co-directed, devised projects, delivered workshops, publicised and evaluated, working with host venues, partners, guest artists and volunteers. The team has included: singer-songwriters Matt Hill (The Quiet Loner) and Christine Johnson, artist Jeni McConnell artist and poet Johnny Woodhams, artist Melanie Miller and poet/academic Professor Jeffrey Robinson.
arthur+martha Community Interest Company (CIC) was registered 11th June 2007, company number 6275774.
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“How do you write a book like this? Base it on yourself. As though you’re telling a story of yourself. The sadness is part of reality, and we’ve written about that and the joy and the grief…We can console one another, we can talk about it. It’s sad to go through hardship alone. We’ve put all that in a book for everyone. I feel proud, very proud, in fact.”
Joan, A BOOK OF OURS