Estimated reading time:4 minutes, 23 seconds
Everyone has a story. It was Drovers Centre regular Sheona Josiah’s colourful clothes that made Central St Martin’s art student Zi Liang want to join forces on a new artistic project. Here’s what happened. This interview, by Nicola Baird, was originally published in Get Together magazine.
On paper Sheona Josiah, 54, and Zi Lang, 26, are worlds apart. Islington-born Sheona is a regular at Age UK Islington’s Drovers Centre, which she reaches with the aid of a wheeled walker decorated with colourful dolls she’s made herself. While Zi, from Qiqihar in China (not far from Mongolia), is a second year student at London’s celebrated art college, CSM, which is based in the hippest part of King’s Cross, Granary Square.
But both have a distinctive fashion style – today Sheona is in a bright baggy playsuit and yellow glasses while Zi is sporting multi-patched harlequin trousers – which drew them together for the Air Studio project.
>FOLLOW ISLINGTON FACES by email: a new interview is published every week.
“She was the only one who crossed my eyes,” says Zi who had been working on 3D installation and sculpture. Sheona was also single-minded about picking Zi as her collaborator, but for rather different reasons. “I was thinking about which kind of person I’d never worked with. The only Chinese people I’d met were in the fish and chip shop as a child in Highbury Quadrant.”
The synergy worked perfectly with the pair meeting regularly at Holloway Road Costa while Zi drank tea and Sheona a cappuccino.
“I wanted to challenge conceptual art and for the piece to speak for itself,” says Sheona who did a foundation art course years ago. Then Zi, who’d been given a briefing from the college about Government cuts to charitable organisations asked ”What’s it like to be older and use a wheely walker?”
Zi’s concern about the lack of support for elder people inspired the pair’s art work. Together they went to the weekend flea market held at Grafton School, off Holloway Road where they bought a walking stick, bicycle handlebars, wooden basket and some old toy wheels for their creation. “For this piece we used duct tape to create our walking wheeler. We didn’t want to make it stable because the Government doesn’t do enough for the older people,” says Zi whose collaboration with Sheona has added to his desire “to explore how to do art to help people.”
“We talked about ideas and our lives. It was so insightful when Zi explained about the single child culture and the pressures to succeed that you have as an only child, and I shared what it was like coming from a big family,” added Sheona (who is one of six sisters and five brothers) who made a mini Zi doll decorated in Chinese fabric.
The pair also dressed up in eye-popping outfits topped with giant papier-mâché heads – a real hit when they wore this at the opening exhibition at CSM.
“We had a lot of laughs as the barriers were broken down allowing the art to grow,” says Sheona who is immediately hugged by Zi. He then adds: “I had a lot of misconceptions about elders. I thought they would be lonely. But being an artist you have to think not only about form and content but also the responsibility you have for society.”
Sheona’s tip for anyone working in any art partnership is to be patient, open and listen. “When I was his age I thought old people moan and they always say ‘When I was young…’ I wanted Zi to know that I was just as zestful as I always was. Inmy mind I’m 21! And it was good to learnt what it was like for a young person and hear about going to university and the financial side.”
“We put each other in each other’s shoes,” adds Zi who plans to bring Sheona some real Chinese presents after the university holidays. “A motorbike?” quips Sheona hopefully before adding, “I’ll miss Zi – there wasn’t enough time.”
It’s clear this pairing of student and elder was good fun from the first meeting. What’s more it has led to the creation of distinctive art with a message, and a real friendship that crosses age, gender and culture.
- For creative projects for people aged 55+ in Islington have a look at Age UK Islington’s magazine, Get Together. There are lots of meet ups designed to provide information and enjoyable activities.
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.