In Conversation with Cheer Up Luv and Bee Illustrates
Firstly Eliza, could you tell us about Cheer Up Luv and also about what inspired you to start this?
In January 2017 I founded, Cheer Up Luv, a globally renowned photo and interview series, which retells women and marginalised folk's accounts of sexual harassment. The project combines photography with journalism, activism, and social media, and has gained interest from all over the world. I founded the campaign after being told to "cheer up" by a stranger in the street. After my male friends dismissed the experience as a “compliment", I felt inspired to prove them wrong. I realised that not only was the issue completely normalised, but there was a huge lack of awareness surrounding it. I began taking portraits of my friends in public places and posting the photos online. With each location reflecting the testimony of harassment, the effect was empowering survivors by turning a negative memory into something positive. But most importantly, taking back control of the experience and reclaiming the space.
Cheer Up Luv has since expanded from an award winning photo series into a multimedia platform, which facilitates a podcast, art, design, submission, workshops, lectures and a safe space for discussions around misogyny and sexism. The photo series has also been exhibited in Colombo, Warsaw, New York, Berlin, Bristol, Oxford, London and partnered with the United Nations in 2019, winning the Webby for Best Individual Editorial Feature with ‘Don’t Look Away’. Since 2017 Cheer Up Luv has steadily been growing as a platform and expanding into new mediums. Above all, Cheer Up Luv is a project which aims to empower survivors, while tackling the normalisation surrounding sexual harassment.
Bee, you use your platform to share very distinct illustrations and short stories to speak and raise awareness about topics such as Queerness, Feminism and Mental Health to name a few. Could you also speak about what inspired you (if that’s the right word) to raise awareness about such important issues?
Of course! Ultimately, I think of my creative practice as an extension, or visual interpretation of my personality. As someone who took a long time to figure out their identity, who is LGBTQ+, and as a person who has struggled with mental health issues for as long as I remember, there was no defining moment where I decided to start creating art focusing on the subjects that I tend to cover. It has been integral to my work since I began.
Rather than get up on a soapbox, write, sing, or speak, the way I communicate most effectively is through drawing. I often feel that I try to create the art I wish I had seen growing up – that might have made me feel a little less isolated. I want my work to gently educate, affirm, and comfort those who need it.
In creative spaces do you think there is a clear lack of diversity? And how can we tackle this?
B: Absolutely. We’ve spoken before about the extensive 2019 study of major U.S. art museums by researchers at Williams College, which concluded that just 13% of artists featured in those collections were women, and the UK tells a similar tale. (Guardian*) The work of artists/activists like the Guerrilla Girls is also a key inspiration for us, and their mission of bringing attention to women artists, artists of colour and exposing the domination of white men in the art establishment aligns so closely with our own values. As well as this, we also have our own personal experiences working in the arts – opportunities like Hysterical, specifically centring women and people of marginalised genders are not as easy to come by as you might think. It does feel as though the landscape is improving, and we are so proud to be contributing to that through our exhibition and events.
E: The lack of diversity in the arts spaces is directly what we are trying to address with the theme of Hysterical, which is all about reclaiming words and spaces that have traditionally been designed to oppress or exclude women and marginalised folk. In a recent Guardian article, art historian and author Katy Hessel noted that "only 1% of the National Gallery’s collection is made up of art by women... a work by a woman goes for just 10% of that by a man." - These statistics sound shocking, but they aren't really when you go to a gallery and just look at how many artworks on the walls are NOT done by cis white men. Although institutions like the Tate are improving in this area, it's still not very equal.
Around this time last year, you both launched Hysterical, a charity exhibition and series of events for Women’s History Month. Could you talk us through what the reaction was to this, as portraying such harrowing and important stories from diverse backgrounds can be so powerful for people to see and experience, can let people not feel isolated or alone.
E: We were completely overwhelmed by the response when we launched the first instalment of our charity exhibition Hysterical in 2022. Bee and I had never put on an exhibition of any kind before, let alone one with multiple events throughout and on a shoestring crowdfunded budget - after being denied arts council funding. It was a true learning curve, but an amazing one! We wanted to create a space that showed work highlighting important causes, but also curate it in a way that allowed it to be experienced as fun and joyful, whilst still holding space for serious issues to be explored. I don't think Bee would mind saying that we both use art in our own creative practices as a way of communicating about issues we care about, but in a colorful and uplifting way. We wanted to see if it was possible to translate the conversations we have and art we engage with online, into a physical gallery space, that could celebrate the work and artists as well as drawing vital attention to important issues.
Following the success of last year, you’re launching the second instalment of Hysterical for Women’s History Month on the 15th of March. Tell us about what you’ve got in store for this!
B: After such a positive response to our debut in 2022, we are back by popular demand and as promised, Hysterical 2023 is going to be even bigger and better. We had so much lovely feedback from last year, but the most common request was that we make the exhibition even longer and host even more events!
This year, we are kicking things off with our private view on the evening of the 14th March, to allow ticket holders (registration is free with an optional donation to our fundraiser) a first look at the exhibition and a chance to meet the exhibiting artists.
Hysterical opens to the public on the 15th March, and that weekend, we have artist Lu Williams of Grrrl Zine Fair hosting our first workshop on the 18th. Grrrl Zine Fair celebrates contemporary feminism through zines, live events, practical workshops and a pop-up library that tours the world. They will be guiding us through a feminist zine-making session which will include a talk on zine history, Riot Grrrl and contemporary zine culture, and will have a portion of the Grrrl Zine Library available for attendees to look through.
The following day, we have our Body Love Sketch Club life drawing session which we are so excited to have Cass Art’s support for, and then to finish off the exhibition, on the 25th of March we have our panel talk. Last year, tickets for our panel sold out in less than 24 hours. We haven’t announced our line-up or released our tickets yet, but we can promise it’s worth the wait. Our speakers are a selection of brilliant changemakers and advocates, and we’ll be discussing all things Hysterical; ranging from modern feminism, activism, finding joy, and chatting about the panellists' own experiences and why they do the work they do. We can’t wait!
As part of this we were delighted to be able to sponsor the Love Body Sketch Club Life Drawing Workshop, can you let us know a little bit about this event and what participants are in store for?
B: Absolutely! As a regular attendee and huge fan of Body Love Sketch Club, I knew after the first time I went to one of their sessions that I had to work with them in some capacity – and both Eliza and myself felt that Hysterical would be the perfect fit, so we are absolutely thrilled to have them on board!
Body Love Sketch Club is coming to Hysterical on the 19th of March, from 3-5pm. It's a body positivity and creative empowerment project run by performer and artist, Rosy Pendlebaby, and sex educator and artist, Ruby Rare. These two queer, happy, colourful, naked ladies have been running joy-filled arty workshops together since 2018. Together, their aim is to share the empowering, healing potential of life drawing spaces to liberate our bodies, and our inner artists.
A life drawing class with a twist, in which you can choose to pose and be celebrated, as well as to draw, while exploring ways of coming to love and accept ourselves a little more unconditionally. Classes are a joyful and tender tonic to feeling disconnected from ourselves and from one another, a celebration of bodies in all their (optionally naked) glory, and a place to express our creativity, freely and playfully, without shame or judgment.
Could you talk us through what your aims are with this powerful showcase?
E: Similarly to when we first founded Hysterical, we wanted to create an opportunity that we wished we had when breaking into the creative industry. A year on, and after the feedback we received last year, we now see the need for more safe spaces in public that facilitate art, creativity and that are inclusive at their core. Exhibition wise, we want to showcase art from a range of diverse artists with a message for change and inspiring action. By showcasing a group of artists using their practice as a means of protest, we want to both inform and show attendees what different forms of activism can look.
Finally, what’s on the rest of the cards for 2023 with you both?!
E: Enjoying spring and perhaps not looking at my emails for a week or so...! But after that, back to the usual grind. I'm a Visual Communications tutor at Falmouth University part time, my term starts again in May so I'll be back to teaching for the rest of the year. I'll also be running my usual talks, workshops and keeping up with the day to day running of the Cheer Up luv platform! Until Hysterical starts up again…
B: After Hysterical is over for the year, I’ll definitely be prioritising rest for a little while. Last year, I made the mistake of trying to keep up the momentum without a break, and ended up feeling burnt out and exhausted – so I’ll be doing everything I can to take care of myself in between Hysterical and Pride Month, which is usually a very busy and exciting time of year for me. I can’t share any details of any projects yet (I’m sorry!) but definitely be sure to keep an eye on my social media for updates – I can’t wait to share what I’ve got in store! Once Pride Month is finished, it won’t be too long until Eliza and I are back in business and beginning to start work on organising.
Its been genuinely inspirining listening to you both speak so openly, honestly and eloquently about such topics and we greatly appreciate you taking the time to speak to us.
Be sure to follow both Eliza and Bee on their Instagram pages for more inspiring content