‘The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces’ exhibition review

The Fitzwilliam Museum’s newest exhibition, The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces, is very timely – opening on the 18th May when it was finally announced that we could hug our loved ones once again. The exhibition looks at ‘touch’ in a broad sense, offering a non-chronological exploration from ancient Egypt to the modern day. It includes a range of works: from artistic depictions of touch, evidence of the artist’s touch and objects that were designed to be touched. The exhibition opened with a fragment of ancient Egyptian painting where fingerprints had been used to create texture on the hide of a deer – a ‘trace’ of human touch from thousands of years ago. 

I thought the curation of the exhibition worked well, offering the viewer a wide range of information over a broad spectrum. From Early Modern sketches of the anatomy of the hand, to contemporary uses of the clenched fist as a symbol of power, the exhibition encouraged you to make connections across periods and geographies. Two of my favourite artworks were William Hogarth’s Before and After (1730-31) – humorous pendant pieces showing the hesitant beginnings and flushed aftermath of a sexual encounter. The bright blush on the cheeks of the young lovers in After really evokes a sense of the excitement of another’s touch and the vitality of the human body.

William Hogarth, Before and After, oil on canvas. Images courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Most interesting to me, however, were the objects that were made to be touched. Especially stunning was the display of illuminated manuscripts owned by Cambridge collections. Exquisite in their use of colour and gold leaf, the exhibition reminded us that these devotional items were made to be touched and worshipped from.

Although most of the artwork on display was predominantly of European origin, it was also refreshing to see some inclusion of non-Western objects. In particular, a nkisi from the Congo was displayed as an example of an empowered figure that needed spiritual activation by hammering nails into it’s torso. This alone, however, felt somewhat disappointing. It would be great to have included a bigger range of African spiritual objects that involve this similar activation, such a Vodun bocio – a similarly empowered object which involves wrapping or binding.

Where this exhibition falls short, however, is its intangibility. With most objects kept behind glass, there was a sense of these artworks being very removed from the viewer. Of course, frequent touching of museum objects, which are often very fragile, would cause them great damage. But, there have been attempts in other museums to include a more tactile experience for visitors. York Art Gallery, for example, has several objects of textural interest which can be touched. Although it is important to work on improving the conservation of objects, museums could perhaps look into balancing this with a more sensual experience for visitors that might involve touching.

In current times, of course, this would just not be feasible. Although we are hesitantly stepping out of lockdown, restrictions remain. In museums where you still have to sanitise at the door, follow a one-way system, stay two metres away from everyone and wear a mask – the possibility of shared touching is definitely still off the cards. Perhaps this is why, although interesting and enjoyable, The Human Touch was missing something. The hushed space, dim lighting and predominance of objects in glass cabinets created a rather sterile environment. I overall felt that the exhibition was a rather frustrating experience of being encouraged to imagine the power and potency of touching, whilst being limited to only sight. 

You can read more about the exhibition and find out how to visit here. 

Emma is an MA student studying History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and a recent graduate of the University of York. She is interested mainly in eighteenth and nineteenth century art and the construction of culture and identity. She also loves curating, and when she is not writing essays you can usually find her in a gallery!


Tate Again

Peeking out over an inescapable mask,
I see once more,
Women draped over ornate couches,
Done with the world and its confinement,
And its clothes.
I see once more,
Disembodied faces meeting unhinged shapes,
Unsure, they attempt to devour one another.
I see once more,
Unlikely creatures emerging,
As if willed by the vacuum of imagination.
I see once more,
Ambiguous structures,
Soaring while more solid words explain little,
Of what, perhaps,
Should not be explained.
I see once more,
The collective embrace merge,
With joint resistance,
Forever twinned in a fleeting, nonchalant glance.
Feeling nill,
I wonder if I am measuring effort wrongly.

Photo by Mr Drone on Unsplash
Amy originally studied Archaeology but has just finished a Masters in Social Anthropology at Edinburgh. She is back in London now, where she’s from, and currently works part-time as an editor for a publisher. She loves to travel and write, and has a blog where she shares her articles and poetry called dlohere. She is also trying to learn Italian!
new normal

New Normal: An Introduction

As the lockdown eases and shops open again, we enter a somewhat new normal… Take a moment. Did that happen? It’s surreal, a little absurd and even — at times — horrific, so how are we going to wrap our heads around this? How much of that change are you feeling? What will you do, what will you be? Where will you go? This April, we at Assemblage hope you can let yourself look around you. Take a deep breath. Enjoy what you can, in the present. Today and tomorrow will be different.

Photo by Cajeo Zhang on Unsplash
Karen is a journalist and poet who loves music and photography. She is a third year student at King’s College London, and the Editor in Chief of The King’s Poet. In her second year, she also led King’s literary and poetry societies. Among other publications, her writing is published in Apple Daily, Roar News and Have You Eaten Yet?.
Blog spring

The Social Life of Cells: Lockdown creativity during scientific engagement projects

With a background in biosciences and currently studying an MA in Art and Science at the University of Arts London, Himarni is part of the Assemblage Collective writing group and active in creative projects. Her personal work spans weaving, acrylic painting, photography and collage poetry. 

We worked together on the first issue of the Assemblage Collective zine, where she had the great idea of collaborating by circulating a set of images and text to each project member in turn, to ensure everyone had their input. 

Loosely based around a Q&A, we discussed her projects in representing science, how she’s been keeping busy and what she’s looking forward to in the coming months – both within the Collective and in her free time. 

Her current work: 

At the moment, Himarni is developing a ‘cellular architectures’ project which arose partly in response to an interdisciplinary science workshop development project she participated in with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to make research into the Shigella bacteria more accessible. It is a water-borne bacteria responsible for ‘travellers diarrhea’ but can be fatal in children under 5 living in parts of Africa and Asia. Cases have also been detected in Flint, Michigan.

The theory is relatively new and still uncertain around one particular way that the immune system detects and battles this bacteria, but current ideas based on microscopy suggests that a sparse web of nanometre scale septin filaments (part of the cell’s ‘skeleton’ and can be imagined as short protein threads) surrounds the bacteria – caging and sequestering them, preventing them moving around within or between cells to cause further harm.   

 To fulfil this role, these filaments are believed to somehow detect the shapes in their environment such as the characteristic physical features of this dangerous bacteria.

Shigellosis, drug-resistant intestinal illness, spreading ...
Shigella bacteria. Image credit:

When representing its form, she wanted to think outside of the box – while others also represented septin filaments with thread, she wanted to consider the subsequent steps by which these features can sense shape, by thinking of how it intersects the bacterial form and exploring what can be deduced from these tangents. She modelled this using a variety of simple shapes intersecting an observation tool made of a string net representation of a ‘septin cage’.

One of the symbols was of a classical pillar which, due to its symmetry, is a fairly ‘predictable’ shape compared to the helical shapes common to proteins which make up the biological architecture. 

This response was part of a board game making workshop her group designed for children to make a Shigella using materials found in the household, and she used string and a tissue box, which she said pushed her to think more creatively in how to represent science. 

Art as engagement:

During the Zoom workshop with the children those of younger ages were able to understand the basics of an immune response to the bacteria, and children developed maze-like games modelling the gut environment, or catapult games where the immune system takes aim at its adversaries. She said that the game format is a good way of modelling a biological environment, which is ‘like a multiplayer game’ with bacteria and various other types of cell. 

Whereas microscope images and film of cells are more predetermined because they take place over a certain time frame, a game introduces chance and various circumstances, a bit like the Game of Life  which models cell survival in different environments. 

The lab scientists they interviewed discussed Shigella ‘sociology’ and how different strains of the bacteria interact, as they don’t seem to recognise that they are ‘the same’: ‘they’ll avoid each other and try to kill each other if they can’.

The research aims to make understanding of immunology accessible to secondary school aged children through interactivity. 

How do you feel that art intersects with science in research like this?

Commenting on how her degree topic spans both disciplines, Himarni said that the choice of Masters programme was a ‘bridging’ subject, since she wouldn’t have been able to study an MA In Fine Art immediately after a biosciences degree, but ‘why not find your own niche’

She also mentioned that art and science used to be far more closely linked, for instance in the Vedic scriptures, ancient Hindu texts, science (physics, medicine, and architecture among others) and spirituality were intertwined.


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The ‘fragmentation’ of the two subjects was due to a ‘Western colonial way of categorising thought’.

How do you find working at home digitally is affecting your creativity and the way you work?

She described the ‘moment of realisation’ that the ‘transition to peach-coloured Golden Hour’ inspired creativity and energy, and the links between getting Vitamin D and motivation, especially as someone of colour. 

For two or three years she had struggled with working digitally and using social media, instead sourcing opportunities and exhibitions through her university, but noted that she felt she was missing out on ‘resources that are networked within communities’.

She mentioned Nearest Neighbour theory, which I hadn’t heard of before, which is the basis of an algorithm such as Spotify making predictions based on proximity of ‘taste’ – i.e. suggesting the music that people with the most similar music preferences to you are listening to even if they are on the other side of the world.

No longer having to commute, she has regained many hours and is channeling them into creative projects. She has also benefited from having more time to absorb the learning from her degree, and created an Instagram account during the first lockdown. She has found that following her community is a more ‘cohesive’ way of understanding information – by interest rather than motivated by the commercial projects at university. 

Do you feel that your work has changed over lockdown?

She noted the importance of the working environment on her creativity and the link to aesthetics. Being from Sri Lanka, time spent there would feel very close to the climate, birds, trees and provided a well of inspiration. However, during lockdown, being away from London and gentrified public space designed from within capitalist and patriarchal hierarchy, and within the ‘feminine’ domestic space where she can select her influences and environment, has allowed her to be much more focussed on her true interests and priorities, away from loud distractions and directives. 

What kind of work do you hope to make over the next few months, and into the summer? Do you have any particular plans or projects?

Himarni’s interest in architecture extends from cells to the city – and she mentions that she has recently become more interested in the social role of architects. 

When thinking about potentially returning to an office environment, she reflects that many buildings she has worked in have been badly designed – basements with no natural light, and that post-pandemic, workers will have to be ‘seduced’ back into a workplace (quoting Michele Ogundehin, who presents our shared guilty pleasure TV show, Interior Design Masters). 

It may be that we start to see what Himarni calls ‘diverse microenvironments’ – sections within a shared space for example with seating pods, which can assist those who desire more privacy in a communal space. 

Her research proposal for her dissertation will centre around how architecture can draw upon cell biology – from structure and specialised functions of cells to the circulatory systems they provide the structure for. 

How do you feel about spring, does it inspire you?

Living in suburban Epsom, Himarni has been influenced by nature from growing up close to green spaces which is ‘part of [her] style’.

Her local area is closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites who emphasized the importance of working in nature to capture hyper-detailed  realist imagery. On her way to school she would pass Hogsmill River, where John Everett Millais’ Ophelia (1851-2) was painted – though the exact section which appears in the painting is near Tolworth, so slightly further away.  

A picture containing tree, plant, nature

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We can see from her work that nature during Spring and Summer is an inspiration:

In this collage for an Assemblage collaboration with Anita and Tascha, she was inspired by the contrast between the suburbs and the city – where life is more ‘mediated’, meaning more impacted by the role of the media. 

Having attended a lecture from MST Futurism, an Indigenous group of three tribes (Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nation) currently living on land occupied by Vancouver, they have used traditional craft methods for activism to protest the city being settled and the increased pollution. 

They use a ‘blanketing’ approach to set the stage for discussion, by spreading woven blankets across the floor to gather upon as a process of establishing a safe, sacred community space, and highlighting the traditional role of scientific and cultural practices in weaving. 

Image credit: @mstfuturism on Instagram.

Caption text:

Introducing panelist, master weaver and traditionalist Angela George @anggeorge_weaver (qʷənat, sits’sáts’tenat) Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw & səl̓ilwətaɁɬ

[View the full caption with the original post]

The group also ‘wallpapered’ over buildings (in a way that reflects the values of the blanketing tradition) in the city as an intervention to protect sacred and cultural space. 

In Himarni’s work, she also draws upon tradition such as in this appliqué using her grandmother’s fabric, and in loom weaving. 

Some of last year’s work include acrylic painting from her home and garden, when she thought of people alone with houseplants: ‘the only living being you see is a houseplant’.

This collage of photos from Sri Lanka  is inspired by the book Brixton Beach, by Roma Tearne. The author is Singhalese and Tamil and grew up in the UK. Himarni recognised some of the settings from a beach on the West coast of Sri Lanka familiar to both the author and her, and wanted to replicate some of the ideas from Roma’s other work, as a fine artist. 

Centering around semi-autobiographical themes of being from a diaspora community, Himarni described the process of the novel’s character Alice collecting washed up items from a beach and using the driftwood to make a box. Inside the box she housed a shell, but the box could not be opened – as an expression of a part of herself that she cannot access after migrating.

And finally, how has being in a collective impacted on your work? What are you most looking forward to working on next?

Having really enjoyed working on the zines for their collaborative nature, and with Tascha and Anita for the poetry pieces she feels excited to continue working on the upcoming projects. 

She particularly admires Charlotte’s work, which is ‘embedded in nature’, but is grateful to Tascha for founding the collective as a safe space, valuing her inclusive attitude and adding that she’s a ‘good energy person’. 

Further, the opportunity to learn about herself and explore new ideas has been good for her creatively, such as the dreams project for the Reconnection zine where her group explores the politics of dreams and how some dreams can be an intense emotional experience. 

She doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to do group work on her course, because for academic study people have often been working on and researching themes for years, so areas of interest don’t always cross over.  

We look forward to working on the exhibition together, and perhaps incorporating some more nature-based practice and workshops to the Collective’s projects!

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Josie lives near Durham and has a degree in French and Classics. She is currently working in admin but really enjoys contemporary art exhibitions and also ‘Modern’ art more broadly. She particularly enjoys Surrealism and the Avant Garde, but also likes sculpture and performance art in a wider sense.
Blog spring

Annie French’s Floral Visions

Annie French (1872-1965), was a Scottish artist and designer, and one of the many women contributing to the Glasgow School at the end of the nineteenth century. Some of the better known members of this group, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, are widely recognised as major contributors to the wider Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the century. The Glasgow School made a unique contribution to the history of art, combining many of the decorative elements of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Symbolism with a resurgence in Scottish culture in the Celtic Revival. Annie French is one of the so-called ‘Glasgow Girls’, which was not an official group, but coined as a counterpart to the Glasgow Boys, working during the 1880s and 1890s, and who studied at the Glasgow School of Art during this period. 

French was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in her representation of figures who, often in side-profile, display their long necks and full lips. There is little individuality in French’s women, and a sense that her figures are not specific, but rather just beautiful types. Comparisons have also been drawn between her work at that of Aubrey Beardsley, but Beardsley’s illustrations, often undercut with a sense of the macabre and the unnerving, are very different from French’s delicate visions.

French’s illustrations, many of which were published in The Studio magazine to showcase ‘New Art’, are overflowing with spring-like abundance. Many of her women sit amongst sprawling clouds of floral growth, hands holding lush bouquets, so much so that you are unclear what is woman, and what is nature. Their dresses and backgrounds are a matrix of elaborate patterns of flowers and vegetation. 

In Return from a Rose Garden the floral decoration on the women’s dresses seem to echo the roses they carry, with each woman emerging as a flower herself, their bouffant skirts bulging as if about to bloom.

 Annie French, Return from a Rose Garden, 1895, watercolour on paper, 23.4 x 47.5cm. Image courtesy of Art UK, Gallery Oldham.

Although best known for her black and white line illustrations, French’s delicate use of colour in her watercolours creates soft, pastel visions; where dress, nature and flesh blur into one, such as in the translucent purples of The Lilac Veil. 

Annie French, The Lilac Veil, date unknown, size unknown. Image courtesy of Flickr.

In Friendship Blossoms Best Beside the Wishing Well, the beige undertones that are distinctive of much of French’s work are disrupted by brilliant bursts of red, blue and green, as if the flowers are literally blossoming out of the surface of the work. 

Annie French, Friendship Blossoms Best Beside the Wishing Well, ink and watercolour, 28.5 x 30 cm. Image courtesy of Bonhams. 

French created a set of illustrations for each of the seasons, all depicting a woman in a central vignette, surrounded by seasonal growth. Her composition for Spring emphasises the senses, as the freshness of the white, green and blue colours in the central illustration are evoked by the woman deeply inhaling the scents of a spring flower. 

Annie French, Spring, date unknown, watercolour, pen and ink, 18.5 x 18.5 cm. Image courtesy of Artnet. 

French’s work has rather condescendingly been called ‘sentimental’ and ‘quaint’, and is perhaps not taken as seriously as some of her Glasgow Style contemporaries, possibly for it’s more decorative, quality and female subject matter. For me, however, French’s illustrations, with their over-spillings of floral growth, and exquisite use of colour, epitomise the beauty and renewal of Spring. 

For further reading on Annie French and the female members of the Glasgow School see: Jude Burkhauser (ed), ‘Glasgow Girls’: Women in Art and Design 1880-1920.

Emma is an MA student studying History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and a recent graduate of the University of York. She is interested mainly in eighteenth and nineteenth century art and the construction of culture and identity. She also loves curating, and when she is not writing essays you can usually find her in a gallery!

Blog spring

Lovesong for Spring

I wrote this sonnet in 2014 as part of a Year 9 class assignment. 7 years onwards, I still enjoy what I wrote – and in a way, this connects our February and March themes! I think it's healthy to let yourself be moved by your own work, and to appreciate the unique and personal memories of the process... I remember how I was inspired by the rhythm of Alexander Pope's Eloisa to Abelard, after watching the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Photo by Joel Holland on Unsplash

Lovesong for Spring

For season that gives bless’ed days in light,
Your comely looks will ever leave the shore;
For you a snowdrop land out for delight,
I wait and yearn for honeyed sound: amour.
Oh budding youth and binding honest smells,
No bird nor figure did evoke my mind;
Your sweet, your caprice tale in spring we tell,
Your dream of slumber wrote for me designed.
For you bloom lily, iris, rose with charm,
That dance, that laugh and soothe red eyes so sore;
So arrows cushion frays within your arms!
Complete devotion of my heart to yours.
By you my lonely heart shall be adored,
Go onwards, so our journey upwards soars.

Karen is a journalist and poet who loves music and photography. She is a third year student at King’s College London, and the Editor in Chief of The King’s Poet. In her second year, she also led King’s literary and poetry societies. Among other publications, her writing is published in Apple Daily, Roar News and Have You Eaten Yet?.
Blog self love

Five miles only

For me, I don’t consciously think about self-love very often. Self love by my definition exists in the moments where I am able to stop and enjoy the natural milestones of the day such as the light: staring at the shadows of the trees on my carpet, experiencing the last light of day from my desk, especially when the sky is pink and orange and the churches are in silhouette. For me self-love is feeling mindful for those moments that break the banalities of life, amuse, inspire or calm my frantic working state. Experiencing these moments are essential for my functioning when each day seems to blend into the next. Internally, I hear myself saying “hmm… you can have SOME time for yourself but you also have a lot to do and will feel even worse if nothing is done today,” so for once I decided not to listen, closed the lid of my laptop and took to the wheel…

Five miles only?

Sealing the fields with the turning of wheels
Unfamiliar with undulations on this pilgrims route I hasten,
Birds of prey on telephone lines hypnotised by the blue beetle gliding
between furrows sown by motion alone, 
The milling of gravel under rubber, the vapour of  glass, the shine of steel
The mercy of the sea, the resting of the heel
Homesteads that peer over waning shoulders, church towers squinting on tip toes
Studying the milestone to nowhere, a monolith inscribed with good will alone
Faint sounds of barking orbiting around the metallic shell
An instinctual compass to rely on light, light that shares 
the way a flint might reveal its veins or the choice of a feather to sweep the bonnet

Warnings! Deer, frogs, children, the elderly 
Here I am, working towards the cliff like a chess piece in slow motion
Blessing the fields, farms, greens and crosses which ushered me towards
The sea broad and wild, the cliffs steep and mild,
A lighthouse illuminated by the sun only 
The epitome of the liberated lonely 
The tide is peeling back, the light is dying
She is gone and the vehicle is sighing 

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Jessica is a postgraduate student studying Building History at the University of Cambridge. She works as an Assistant Heritage Consultant for Purcell in the east of England but has previously worked in galleries based in York and Leeds. She loves nothing more than hopping on a train to visit towns, cities, and villages to spot interesting features that help tell the story of a place.


Self-care & Self Love: 15 Podcasts to Check Out

Listening to podcasts has been proven to improve wellbeing, since it requires both sides of the brain to listen and focus. Besides, they’re a good accompaniment to a range of mindless but necessary activities such as tidying, exercising, or if you’re like me – lounging in the bath. 

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  1. In Good Company by Otegha Uwagba – Elizabeth Day (Acast)

I am a big fan of Elizabeth Day’s podcast How to Fail, and was glad to find this interview. 

She discussed the power of having role models when starting a journalistic career at a very young age (12, to be exact), and the importance of the affirmations of teachers and being encouraged to start by meeting a journalist. 

She noted the importance of feeling free to be opinionated at this age and how this changed over time for her. She also added that it was her self-confidence that enabled her to get a permanent role after a week’s work experience after university. When she started her ideal role at The Observer, she noted how her ‘perfectionist tendency’ and sense of ‘conditional appreciation’ led her to feel that she should say yes to everything, taking the features that nobody else wanted to write and recognised that she really didn’t enjoy being on TV.

Over time, and during a series of personal struggles – divorce, miscarriage and fertility treatments she reassessed her values and fit and decided to leave the job. 

After writing her first novel, she was faced with a lot of criticism from literary experts and came to realise the opinions which really counted for her. 

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  1. Power Hour (Acast)- Chidera Eggerue

More commonly known as The Slumflower, the poet discussed her new book ‘How to Get Over a Boy’, which she wrote as a love letter to the daughter she might have in the future. She details self-love techniques and the importance of leaving relationships that don’t serve you.

From her time in public life, she imparts advice on dealing with the social media expectations of others and the difference of a presence versus being present online. 

She notes that while you can influence others, it is important to be mindful that it is not your responsibility to convince them to want better for themselves, and we are each accountable to our own opinions and expectations of ourselves. 

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  1. The Heart – One: Sometimes It’s Lonelier in Relationships (Spotify)

In this part of miniseries One, which focuses on loneliness, Kamala discusses the anonymity of living alone in a city. How there were ‘suddenly whole swathes of [her] life that no one knew about’. After going on an unsuccessful date, she looked at herself in a car mirror ‘and tried to imagine what it was that people wanted to see in [her]’. Laughing with her friend, she said she kept getting broken up with in relationships that she didn’t even realise she was in, expressing the loneliness of uncommitted relationships when experimenting with an open relationship. 

Later, she chooses to prioritise being single and self-care, musing: who gave us the idea that loneliness was unexpected, a sign of incompletion, something to be solved, a ghost to escape at 2am in the heart of something transformative? It’s always here, it never leaves. It doesn’t have to weigh on me so badly’.

Writing a reflective birthday love letter to herself, she expresses that though she feels her loneliness was constant, it may stem from a sense of want within herself that she can mobilise into a driving force.

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  1. The Mindful Podcast (Acast) – 30-Minute Body Scan for Beginners

I took a listening break in exchange for an activity, and this was quite helpful. I’m not usually that into meditation, but I do find guided exercises useful if I’m particularly stressed or need distracting. As expected, the body scan covered various areas of the body and directed my attention to making sure I was relaxed. 

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  1. Unf*ck Your Brain (Acast) – Overcoming Overwhelm

A helpful exercise in recalibrating your thoughts and managing an endless to-do list, this was instructive in identifying the root of your thoughts and reactions and examining which thoughts you’d like to prioritise addressing. 

By conditioning yourself to adopt the opposite thought of what you currently have – e.g., that you will be able to achieve something, it is possible to undermine self-doubt, and where this isn’t possible, identifying something which you can believe instead – such as I may be able to complete a particular element of the task or achieve a smaller goal, may be helpful in countering overwhelm. 

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  1. She’s All Fat (Spotify/Acast) – The Body is Not an Apology

Sophie interviews writer and author Sonia Renee Taylor, and the pair discuss radical self love (a way of appreciating her own body of colour in a white supremacist world) and the role of body neutrality as a stepping stone to acceptance. Sonia notes that there can be ‘spheres’ of acceptance – that she has had trans partners who are fatphobic, or body positive friends with whom she has had to discuss white supremacy.

She encourages us to ask ourselves: ‘Where in my own life am I being complicit?’

Sophie expresses her difficulties in getting a diagnosis for ADHD due to her weight, and how she feels she had internalized capitalism which manifested as a lack of confidence when she was processing information differently to peers.

Sonia responds that this would have made her further defiant against the system, to which Sophie responds that her attitude had often been one of, ‘I’ll show you!’.

The discussion moves towards the pervasive nature of wellness without spirituality, as a way to justify the current system of dominance which Sonia terms the “white woman spiritual bypass community”.

Finally, she mentions that she runs ‘Radical Movement’ dance classes on zoom. 

  1. Fresh Air – Lizzo (Acast) or online in Fresh Air Archive

(I confess that I read the transcript online, but this took roughly as long as actually listening)

And now, to the other of my joint-favourite podcasts, Fresh Air. I listened to this one because I didn’t know much about Lizzo and knew that Terry Gross’ interview techniques would bring her personality to the fore and discuss body positivity in a meaningful way.  

The pair differ on their opinions of feminism when discussing her album cover which features her naked – which Gross said would have made her question whether the woman was objectifying themselves, noting that she was pushing the boundaries of traditional beauty standards.

Lizzo responded by asking, ‘but are you only saying that because I’m fat?’, noting that women who aren’t plus sized are more often thought of as sexualised than subverting the male gaze and making what Terry had termed ‘a bold statement’. 

She later clarifies that in the past, women’s bodies had been used to sell cars or other products such as albums and that now this is being redefined by modern feminism. 

They go on to discuss fat shaming and a lack of size inclusivity in clothing that left Lizzo feeling a lack of acceptance. When she was in middle school, she had ‘bound’ her feet and stomach with clingfilm to try to make herself appear smaller.

Eventually this catalysed her journey of self-love and self-appreciation, making the decision that ‘I just wanted to be happy with my body, and I just wanted to be happy with who I am and […] wake up every day in the same body, and it wasn’t going to change’. She wrote ‘My Skin’ as a response to being asked what she liked about herself physically, and she realised she had damaged what her friend called ‘her beautiful skin’ by falling off a rope swing into a river. She felt that this realisation was life-changing for her and echoes the impact of the Black Lives Matter Movement – the power of choosing to love her skin ‘when that was the thing that’s held against me the most in society’.

She discusses writing ‘Good As Hell’ within minutes as a response to how a piano riff made her feel and straddling the divide of wanting to make rap which came as ‘first-nature’ and a ‘rite of passage’ in Houston. She discussed her writing in school and her experience training as a classical flautist which she did until she left College, also playing the flute in marching band and a progressive rock band. 

Eventually she felt the pressure of choosing a particular affiliation after working hard from the morning through to the early hours of the next days – ‘you’re about to be who you are forever. And now who is that?’. Being drawn to continuing as a performer, which she was already doing, she decided to leave her performance degree. 

She discussed how her music had been influenced by a religious Christian upbringing and culture, as her great-grandparents had founded her local church and how this led to her paying homage to gospel music in her work. 

  1. Adam Buxton Podcast – Adam and Joe Cornish – EP145 

If you can manage to get past the singing at the intro, this one is worth listening to. Recorded on Christmas Eve, reflecting on the year, Adam sounds as if he’s walking along his garden path. 

From starting with discussing his enjoyment of Coke Zero, I thought I might struggle with Joe being out of touch, but since I knew they’d be discussing The Staves, I had to keep listening.

A good idea which you might use socially on zoom or over the phone is exchanging audio gifts – and Adam treats Joe to a cover of a song from Muppets Christmas Carol which sounds exactly like a radio jingle to advertise what sounds like a product, but is actually an homage to Joe written by himself and recorded by the Staves!

He outlined the importance of going for a walk when you feel stressed as a way of gaining inspiration and thinking of lyrics during a half an hour walk. The website link above includes a Spotify Playlist of the Staves and a Marian Keyes video on taking care of yourself at Christmas.

(30.00) – They talk about dreams and Joe wrote a song about a vivid dream, with Adam noting that he thinks it’s the uncertainty and differing routine causing strange dreams during lockdown. He wrote a song about putting on a play which was based on an anxiety dream he had and demonstrates how music is an alternative way of processing thoughts. 

Joe talks about a dream of being breastfed by Kylie Minogue as a subconscious interpretation of the experience of having a new-born child in the house and records this with a Mr Sandman-esque tune.

(44.00) Adam discusses the Radio 5 Live interview with Nihal Arthanayake about losing his Dad and coping with grief. 

Now here comes the confession that I didn’t finish this podcast, but I’d still recommend it for some lighthearted Dad banter and an obvious illustration of the need for friendship for wellbeing during a pandemic. 

  1. The Mustards – ‘Is Niksen the New Hygge?’ (highlight) 31 May 2020 – (YouTube) 

Also available on Acast, The Mustards podcast is my joint favourite (alongside Fresh Air) and if you’d like to watch Jenny’s quirky weekly outfits I’d recommend listening/watching on YouTube over Acast. Two Swedish vegan minimalists dissect pop culture and trends, and this video examines the Dutch concept of Niksen – or doing nothing. It doesn’t appear to have taken off as a term, however as David points out, we certainly are doing a lot more ‘nothing’ since the pandemic started. 

Niksen is supposed to entail practising the art of doing something mindlessly with no intent (also covered in the Ten Percent Happier Podcast below). 

They discuss the difference between actively and passively doing nothing, and the difference between mindfulness and ‘nothing time’ and the purpose of doing nothing, for example during a train journey and how this can lead to insight. 

I did also listen to the full podcast, but it was many months ago – I’d recommend dipping into a few of their weekly highlights if you have less time, and if you like their style then listen to an hour-long podcast. 

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  1. Code Switch (Acast) – Books for Your Mind, Belly and Soul 

The team discuss reviews for alternative development books written by people of colour. 

  • ‘How to be Fine’ – by the writers of the podcast By the Book – details their experience of reading 50 self-help books. Their favourite was ‘Single Act of Gratitude’, which involves writing a letter to yourself every day. 
  • The Key to Chinese Cooking – an authentic cookbook using non-typical ingredients. Also, Curry in a Hurry, which was written by an NPR team member’s grandmother.
  • ‘A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston’. The Story of Whitney Houston’s relationship with her friend Robyn Crawford, discussed by Kamari and featuring an audio excerpt of Crawford talking about Whitney sneaking a flea-ridden kitten onto a plane. 
  • They Killed my Mother, They Took our Magic – A YA book set in Nigeria, which explores fantasy and non-imagined oppression from a non-white perspective.
  • In the Country of Women – A story of a family’s matriarch, told by the wife of one of her descendants. She discussed the importance of posterity and representation when writing a history which was that of her husband’s black American family.
  • Such a Fun Age – A realist and partly comedic novel about a suspected kidnapping when a black woman is babysitting a white child, this one sounds entertaining. 

Other Code Switch suggestions: The Books That Got Away, ‘What does Hood Feminism mean for a pandemic’.

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  1. Happy Place Fearne Cotton – Jonathan Van Ness interview:

Jonathan discusses positivity around his HIV status and its impact on his relationships, getting married and self-acceptance. He’s one of the most empowering people in the public eye and Fearne is such a brilliant interviewer, which makes this an uplifting meditation on overcoming adversity. 

  1. No Starving Artist (Spotify/YouTube) –Bridge Statements for Self-Love (11 Oct 2020)

Anisa talks about fostering a positive mindset – noticing thoughts and learning to change them with a therapist-approved method. She has previously held high profile marketing roles at Google and YouTube Music, now running a podcast to tackle the image of the ‘starving artist ‘also through the More by Her (@more_by_her) on Instagram, platform of news stories of thriving female artists. 

In this podcast, she uses the concept of Bridging Statements as a way of aligning with our values, dealing with elements of our situation and self-shaming – how to intentionally create bridges between where we are and visualise where we’d like to be. 

Bridging works by considering your most powerful and common thoughts and employing certainty, e.g., that you enjoy your own company, that you are loved. The method encourages that you stop comparing yourself and fact check your own thoughts and those of others.

This approach to self-acceptance also includes, taking breaks from work, space from people and enjoying solitude and exploring how much your thoughts are realistic or constructed by society. 

Other recommendations: January 31 ‘Creative Wellness Meditation’, January 24 – ‘Never Not Networking and Clubhouse’.

  1. Bryony Gordon’s Mad World – World Mental Health Day 10/10/2018 – Scarlett Curtis: 

TW: suicidal thoughts, PTSD and chronic illness

Role of activism in resilience and improving mental health – (Gifted Scarlett’s book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink in 2019 during a difficult time and recently came across her role in the Free Periods movement in Amika George’s book ‘Make It Happen’). treatment of women medically and difficulty in diagnosis for scoliosis and internalising feelings of pain. When talking about it, Bryony Noted that she was stroking her own face and she discussed how opening up about these topics feels like ‘burdening’ others and that often you feel the need to comfort the other person. 

She also told of the importance of her knitting blog as a way of motivating her but also of trying to appear productive during illness. 

Born of a famous family, daughter to Richard Curtis and Emma Freud, she had felt like the ‘stain’ on a positive family, but eventually her mum realised she needed to be her mum and not her doctor, and the sense of burdening improved. When she went back to school after spinal surgery to do her A-levels after 2 years off, she experienced 5 months of every day getting worse – and had to attend a day treatment centre for a period of time. She expressed that she just wanted to be alone and would often take her pets to a country house in Suffolk whenever she could. She described needing but not wanting social interaction, which highlighted that it isn’t always easy to ask for help when struggling.

Having identified that she had PTSD about being in the room and house where she was ill, she sought support and managed to get into NYU and move to New York with 4 GCSEs. She tried to restart her life but felt hopeless and very low until she called her best friend and talked until she fell asleep. 

She described the balance of learning when it’s best to push yourself and when to give yourself a break.

Having gained activism work experience at Global Citizen and started an organisation called The Pink Protest, she found that calling upon activism and feminism gave her purpose and noted that taking each day at a time is key when things are difficult. She also discusses the benefits of taking an anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication which is well suited to her needs and taking up yoga, which she’d once hated the thought of. 

She describes feminism as an act of self-care and I certainly believe in finding your purpose by following what you believe in as a form of loving yourself. 

Other recommendations: Daisy May Cooper episode

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  1. Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris (Spotify) – #319 How to do Nothing: Jenny Odell

Dan frames the discussion with a quote from his friend, that ‘our desired state is always elsewhere or otherwise’, admitting to his ‘productivity shame’, a sense of needing to fill every waking moment productively. 

Jenny responds that in the days before social media, she wrote in her journals about feeling overscheduled, and noted that an awareness of anticapitalism can be useful in undoing some of this guilt. By adapting the frames of reference we use to label productivity – such as considering that a relaxing activity may be productive for wellbeing, and acknowledging activities in which you find personal meaning, it becomes easier to be less tied to productivity in a market sense. 

They discuss that she mentions in her book, How to Do Nothing, that she often visits a local rose garden and how going to a familiar relaxing place, observing her surroundings and engaging in unstructured time has helped her mindfulness.

She notes that during lockdown her daily walks had become too routine, but that she found herself noticing details on routes she’d walked before and had never seen certain details before. She terms this mundanity Challenging Relaxation and says ‘nothing is harder than doing nothing’.

Dan refers to non-traditional meditation, quoting habits of deliberately trying to waste time given by a fellow writer – such as sitting at the desk at the end of the work day with nothing to do, or watching old Taylor Swift videos. Jenny sees some use in the music video example of this repetition, noting that we can often ‘look again and again at something and still not grasp it’. 

She recommends that mindfulness includes a connection with something larger, for example in her observation of birds when walking. 

Dan notes that she is known to have befriended a family of crows which she feeds often. 

(It is at this point that my phone deleted my draft Note To Self with the rest of my thoughts on the podcast. So below is what I do remember): 

Wellness for Jenny is about recognizing the limits of our own responsibility, recalibrating in nature and recognizing privilege and an awareness of the local Ecosphere – the names of the rivers, mountains, or of indigenous lands. She gives the example of publicizing her book, but not through her Instagram, as this is one of the few areas of her life which isn’t ‘commodifiable.

Overall I really enjoyed the conversation between the two and found it an engaging antidote to traditional conversations about meditation. 

Other recommendations: Forgive Yesterday and Reset (Spotify), #317 Non-Preachy Ethics

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  1. Tiny Leaps, Big Changes (Spotify) – Episode 657: Stop Trying to be Extraordinary.

A self-development podcast focusing on habit change and formation. In this bite-sized episode, Gregg Clunis explores the empowerment we can achieve by embracing being average to be better able to find greatness. 

Being compassionate with ourselves by using positive language towards ourselves is the first step, and the following step can be a way of reacting to the judgments and preconceptions we use to label others and ourselves. By applying the philosophy of Alain De Botton, Clunis describes the ‘rigidity’ with which we treat the answer to the question, ‘what do you do?’ and how materialism defines us. The question can be replaced with ‘who are you?’ as a way of examining your own actualisation. 

He sets out a series of mental principles from de Botton, which include fighting the temptation to comply instead of acting in an authentic way and in allowing ourselves to just ‘be’, we can feel more adequate in asserting ourselves and becoming who we want to be. 

Other episodes: 672: Improve Your Focus Instantly, 667: The Power of Retrospection

Other Honourable Mentions:

Mad Chat (online –, podcast apps). I looked online and skim read some of the transcripts since I found this one late in the research process. 

However, while not specifically self-care related this podcast discusses media portrayals of mental health and illness. I only wish they had made more episodes!

Killing Eve (female focus, people’s relationship to their emotions and how this affects relating to people – Villanelle doesn’t have empathy and yet she has strong relational abilities) and Frasier (a comforting show and the psychoanalysis of the main character). The website also has detailed bio of guests including their research interests and further reading.

Snoozecast (Acast): A podcast which I often use to get to sleep. While the episodes don’t follow the same story through chapters, there is the opportunity to listen to a variety of opening chapters and later to listen to further parts of the stories as they are uploaded. 

Unlocking Us by Brené Brown (Spotify) – Self-help podcast with guests including Obama and Roxane Gay

Mental (online):  July 15th 2020 – 144: Self Love – It really is a cornerstone to mental health recovery with Dr Shainna Ali. Other interesting episodes: 164 Masculinity, 153 Burnout, 144 Self Love

The Lavendaire Lifestyle (Spotify): She featured on The Mustards podcast and I’ve been meaning to listen to her content, lots of this interests me so it’s on the list!

Suggested: 174 – Guided Meditation for Self Love, 173 – Closing the Creative Gap with Jade Darmawangsa, 171 – Becoming Your Fullest Self with Ivan Lam. 

All in the Mind BBC 4  – 17 Nov 2020 ‘Recovery stories, personality change, Covid’ – exploring whether listening to other people’s mental health recovery stories can be beneficial.

‘WTF’ with Marc Maron: Jodie Foster (1201), Johnny Flynn (1177), Michael J. Fox (1176)

Happier with Gretchen Rubin – podcast 240 – September 25, 2019 (Spotify): The Emergency Kit for Anxiety, Worry and Stress

Feel Better, Live More: Dr Rangan Chatterjee – (155 – The Power of Plants, Love and Connection) and (158 – How to Use Running as a Tool to Change your Life)

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Josie lives near Durham and has a degree in French and Classics. She is currently working in admin but really enjoys contemporary art exhibitions and also ‘Modern’ art more broadly. She particularly enjoys Surrealism and the Avant Garde, but also likes sculpture and performance art in a wider sense.

Journey of Self-Love

Whispered words of stripped timber,
Chanted like a spell under hot breaths,
Like a song hurried through and felt.
Quiet storm, do I want thee?
Do I want to be,
To be degraded as if in acid rain,
To be a reduced solution,
Part of it finally,
My affects wiped away,
Like paint chips journeying down the drain,
Accompanied only by a swelling of circumstance.

Perhaps it is good to be reduced,
Be forced towards childishness,
To have to inhabit a time,
When dreams were boundless,
And outside of reason,
A time before the weight of the appropriate and the likely.
Perhaps it is a needed antidote,
To the certainty and uncertainty of creeping adulthood,
Perhaps we should not grow up all at once,
But only in the useful branches,
And stay young and budding in a few varieties of ourselves.

And then I spy a hole,
Between here and my vibrancy.
For just a moment,
I can be excited, passionate, loud,
And I can see why and how, 
I can be all those things and more.
I have found that place,
Where I do not worry or weep,
For things I believe I am missing,
I do not get stuck in notions of futures,
Of missteps and inaction,
I am living in action,
And am free of the weight,
That before I let crush me on this side of the wall.

Amy originally studied Archaeology but has just finished a Masters in Social Anthropology at Edinburgh. She is back in London now, where she’s from, and currently works part-time as an editor for a publisher. She loves to travel and write, and has a blog where she shares her articles and poetry called dlohere. She is also trying to learn Italian!

Self Love: Editor’s Letter

Welcoming February’s theme

Karen is a journalist and poet who loves music and photography. She is a third year student at King’s College London, and the Editor in Chief of The King’s Poet. In her second year, she also led King’s literary and poetry societies. Among other publications, her writing is published in Apple Daily, Roar News and Have You Eaten Yet?.