Hornsey artist Daniella Bowyer: ‘We’re in an image-obsessed age of selfies’

Jess Wilsons embroidered self portrait

Jess Wilsons embroidered self portrait - Credit: Archant

Bridget Galton talks to Ply Gallery director Daniella Bowyer about their latest exhibition exploring women’s sexuality through self portraits

Julia Maddisons suitcase

Julia Maddisons suitcase - Credit: Archant

When artist Daniella Bowyer was tasked with opening a gallery in Hornsey Town Hall, her problem was how to hang works in the listed building.

The solution was to lay down a plywood floor and put up MDF walls, which lead to its name: The Ply Gallery.

Bowyer recalls taking on the unprepossessing “old office with a nasty green carpet”.

“How do you build a gallery and hang work when you can’t make holes in the wall? We had to be creative about it, we built new walls put a floor down of natural ply and had the original Crittall windows so there was a huge amount of natural light. Now we can hang whatever we want within reason.”


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Opened in early April, the gallery hosts a weekly programme of exhibitions often featuring work from local artists, galleries and colleges.

“We didn’t know how it would be recieved but it’s been ferociously successful with a massive mailing list and an overwhelming reaction from visitors.”

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Bowyer, who lives in Hornsey Lane, exhibits in the latest show My Sex My Self, which explores sensuality and sexuality through self portraits by 14 women.

The mother of one describes it as “an exuberant and honest celebration of ourselves as sexual beings in a world where the expression of a woman’s sexuality can be controversial threatening or even subversive.”

“Forty years ago there wasn’t a single woman in art history books,” she says.

“Bluntly we all know that equality doesn’t yet exist, we don’t reach the same level, and platforms for less established women artists are still relatively and frustratingly rare.”

The sculpture, paintings, installations, and drawings include Julia Maddison’s battered suitcase with saggy pockets and a negligee stuffed stitched with the word sex.

LGBT artist Jess Wilson has stitched together a padded image of her face using embroidery in a work that explores sexual repression.

And Bowyer’s piece on motherhood features a drawing of her naked on wallpaper lining and a shelf housing a breast pump and items associated with giving birth.

“It’s about those transitional stages of womanhood,” she says. “How your body is used by the child and changed forever, how you start to repress your sexual being.”

She adds: “I feel that we live in an age of selfies and Instagram and young women have regressed to being very image obsessed.

“The exhibition is a platform for women to explore different notions of themselves and express how they see themselves - how a woman sees herself and how society sees a women are very different.”

Bowyer plans more community arts events and art workshops for children of all ages, but in the meantime is planning the next exhibition featuring art by users of Crouch End counselling charity Open Door which works with 12-24-year-olds with mental health issues. Visitors will be able to don headphones to listen to an interview with artist Grayson Perry and interviews with the artists

My Sex My Self runs until October 4. 10-4pm daily at the town hall The Broadway, Crouch End. ntry. Entry free hthartscentre.co.uk.

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