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Anita's Digest Blog Projects

Everyday superpowers

Members Luisa & Hannah come to (fake!) blows.

A superhero- singular, ‘a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers’. We tend to imagine superheroes as typically lonesome, cape billowing in the wind, eyebrows arched in a pensive state. We don’t see the power of invisibility that is held by the endless groups of people caring for the ‘hero’, such as the foster family, the friends that embrace their ‘outsider’ position, the community making it possible for them to act ‘heroically’. 

A similar notion characterises the ever-elusive ‘artist’, either completely out of view or totally centre stage, the concept of the extraordinary artist and their muse denies the existence of a creative community making ‘art’ possible. It denies the caring, learning, and teaching that happens collectively, giving way to a cycle of ideas. 

Through an Easter Sunday spent at the Foundling Museum’s ‘Superheroes, Orphans & Origins: 125 years in comics’ exhibition, followed by a themed workshop, Assemblage Youth Collective spent the day distilling the assumptions around what the term ‘superhero’ means. The Foundling Museum’s history as a hospital for the care of abandoned children, founded by Thomas Coram in 1739, set the perfect stage for an exhibition around care identity and comic book hero histories, the exhibition focusing on how orphans, adoptees and foster children are depicted within comics and graphic art. 

The exhibition room itself felt like stepping into the pages of a comic book: plush with baby pink polka dots, strawberry red and electric blue walls. The display held vintage comics, contemporary pieces specifically commissioned, and graphic art from all over the world. Personally, I was struck by the originality of contemporary artist Bex Glendining’s piece, Begin Again, a digital illustration designed specifically for the exhibition, exploring themes of growth and emotion in new environments. The mesmerizingly vivid blocks within the piece could be read in any order, playing with the idea of sequential art and questioning how we order time and space. This mirrored the Foundling Museum’s approach to the conversation around care, where they replace the term ‘care-leaver’ in the descriptions with ‘care-experienced’ and ‘care identity’, expanding ‘care’ out to include different spaces beyond the foster home.

Justin’s superhero symbol

Reactions to the exhibition informed the creative work that followed. Assemblage founder Tasch led a workshop centred on designing and crafting our own superhero symbols, playing with the concept of superpowers. A member of the collective, Justin, considered how powers could move beyond the visual: ‘one of the things I took away from the pieces on display was that power can be much more internal and metaphorical as well – it’s resilience, it’s accepting change, it’s staying focused, and all of that. I took the basic motif of a wing/wave shape to symbolise that ability to ride out changes’. 

Hannah’s superhero symbol

Other members thought about how the illustrations on display distilled classic depictions of a hero, and of a foster child. Hannah took inspiration from Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom’s drawings, that ‘focused on ‘the harsh othering that can and often does occur as a result of being an adopted child’ and ‘her use of muted, selective colours, and the textural quality of her pieces that looked almost tea-stained’. Hannah’s symbol played with conventional notions of femininity, merging bright pinks with geometric shapes to capture ‘the endless realm and range of what a woman looks like and can achieve’. 

Tasch’s symbol

Tasch drew ideas from Lars Horneman’s illustrations of warrior queen Zenobia, impressed by how the comic ‘combined traditional feminine and masculine emblems to constitute a sense of power, breaking with more classic representations of superheroes and superpowers’. 

During the workshop, I led a brief talk about how poetry writing could help inform our symbol-making. Poetry is how I care for myself and expressing feelings and observations through creative writing helped us to expand out our symbols beyond the visual, thinking about how we might symbolise our identity through sound and smell, noticing how it has changed and been informed by others. 

As I made my own notes for my symbol, I wrote, ‘writing is drawing’, as I felt the bends of the letters grate against cardboard, my illegible handwriting resembling squiggles more than words, prompting my own technicolour symbol to express how what may seem directionless can fulfil an emotional or creative purpose. The exhibition itself is based on an original work commissioned by the museum in 2014, where care-experienced poet Lemn Sissay made a poem that is sprawled over the museum’s walls entitled ‘Superman was a Foundling’. 

The idea of being found, instead of being made or being new, sits at the heart of the Museum’s themes and Assemblage’s workshop. Member Josh captured this through his fascination with the characters in Taiyō Matsumoto’s illustrations in the Manga series Tekkonkinkreet, who wear clothes made from found materials, emphasising how we can re-use objects and surroundings to create new identities. Similarly, member Amy’s symbol played with the recycling logo, expressing how creativity and identity exist as ongoing processes.

We continued re-imagining superhero and superpower tropes in the reflection portion of the session. Usually, evaluations after workshops can feel quite clinical, but by discussing the session in real-time, the participants created a comfortable space to share thoughts and feelings. Luisa explained how her drawing of tear drops symbolised her connection to her own vulnerability and how she cares for her friends, and Tasch drew inspiration from the raindrops in her emblem to consider how judgements and moods, like the weather, can change and flow. 

As the sunshine warmed our journey home, we were left thinking about the ‘everyday superpowers’ that mark our identities, and how care becomes an ongoing and collective experience. 


Anita is a freelance journalist and writer with a background in Sociology and Gender Studies. She loves scribbling poems, writing articles about society and culture and drinking endless amounts of coffee!
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Blog Projects

A memorable trip to the Foundling Museum

On Sunday 27th of March, I headed down to the Foundling Museum. On this bright, crisp day I was off to do some art with the Assemblage Collective.

I was v excited, it felt like it’d been years since I did something creative – in reality only months, but to me anytime without creating something seems to be longer than its relative time span.

I hadn’t been to the Foundling Museum before. I was surprised to find it tucked to the side of a park I visited lots as a child, always one of my favorite ones – Coram’s Fields. Coram’s Fields – even hearing the name of it brings back the sensations: a rush of cold air against flushed cheeks, legs straining to run up the ramp dragging the swing in arm, and then jumped onto it so it could zip wire me across the field. The soft feel of goats, who would like and nibble my hand and I would shy away only to place my hand back in between the gates again. Splashing and getting soaked through in the fountains, while my family ate strawberries and mini sausages on the grass. How vast it had felt, but looking into it now, it was so much smaller.

Unknowingly, the emotional journey had only just begun.

When I arrived, Tascha (Assemblage Collective’s founder & director) and the assembled Assemblage members greeted me.

Tascha explained what we would be doing and gave us a presentation on the Foundling museums’ history.

The Museum opened in 2004. I had been playing on the fields between 1995-2002.

Before being a museum, it had been the Foundling Hospital and had taken its last child in the 50’s. The hospital had been established by Thomas Coram (1668-1751) in 1739 to care for babies at risk of abandonment. Coram, a philanthropist, campaigned for seventeen years before he received a Royal Charter from King George II to found it. A statue of him stands outside, and the fields are still named for him.

The instructions for attending had been simple – bring a piece that you have an emotional sentimental connection to.

We sat and introduced our pieces and then headed through the galleries. I kept my heart open while we walked through, I knew the emotional response I would have would be the thing to inspire the art I would produce back in the workroom.

When I found out about the tokens, I felt an obsession take hold.

In the first few decades of the hospital, the parents who left children were instructed to bring a token with them to deposit with the child, to act as an identifier. Each child was written into a register, given a number and then a new name – usually after someone famous or inspirational, think Julius Ceaser, Shakespeare, Cicero etc. The token was placed alongside the book or was written in the form. If parents wanted to claim the child back, or more likely needed to prove they hadn’t murdered the child, they could return citing the token as a steadfast identification of the child’s heritage.

The children rarely, if ever, saw these tokens. They remained sealed unless a claim was made.

Weeks later, writing this, I still get an uneasy chasm, the sense of a rupture inside. This was what I used for inspiration.

The sentimental objects I had brought with me – my first filled sketchbook from 2012, a wolf inlaid zippo lighter I had left on a rock in the middle of the sea in St. Ives (and managed to retrieve!), and a necklace inherited from my grandmother – they were all personal to me. Sentimental because of their meaning to me, and if I passed them on, it would still be the connection to me that made them so poignant.

Others had made art around the tokens too, such as David Shrigley. See below.

untitled image

Back in the room, I found the things I needed to bring the visualisation of the feeling I was having to life. Some paper, glue, pens etc. which had been provided for us.

We scanned our objects – I used the gold teddy necklace from my nan – and printed them out. I worked onto the paper creating this:

A freeform automatic writing on the front, and a flowing design on the back with added phrases and words. I then created an overlay, so the sentimental reminiscent memories and exploration in the automatic writing were only caught in glimpses. I wasn’t sure if I was the object talking, or the memories. I quiet like the ambiguity of it. The line between objects we bring life to with our memories, and our memories giving us life.

The layer on top hides some of the words, so only some phrases can be seen.

To me, that represented the chasm between the parent and the child, between the reality of each of their lives. How the child must have wondered about the life they would have had if they were in the flow of time still, not ruptured, renamed and rehomed. How the tokens would have meant a different sentimentality. About how the object and the child must have felt out of time and place. There was a lot of complexity in my feeling, and I hope I expressed some of it, but it was/is difficult to get into words.

untitled image

The piece reads

‘A chasm. Washed gold. Dark, deepness, subdued, abated. Memory, history, what if it had been another life, another time? What if I’d never known it come to me? What if she had given it but it had not been received? Sentimentality in the chasm, liminal and stranded, straddled and inaccessible. What if I had not been me? A shell – captured and refilled, excavated of who I should have been. A chasm. Rippled. Ripped. Disrupted. Disrupted. A rippled timeline. Julius Ceaser in the 20th Century. Shakespeare in the 17th. Who are you? Are you – Am I – in the gold chains, those tokens of love, in the moment coveted treasures and chained to me? Are you in my objects – real and psyche? Am I disrupted? I am taking you with me. And we are going nowhere. Looking up to you. looking down at me. Golden sunbeams and an unconscious stream of warmth and love passed down through time. love through a chasm – untouched. It does not touch me I am nameless and overnamed, over imbued with promise because I am you. These are memories. I am my nan. I am my mum, my great grandmother, my friends my enemy my father other father, I’m family.’

I want to turn this into a poem and lift some of the main lines I like out. I may return to it later!

I loved making it. I took it with me to the pub after, and when Chelsea scored someone knocked a pint over it (luckily I wrote in archival ink!), and it makes me like the piece more. Its imbued with its own life and memories now, a living thing out in the world. I hope to go and make more pieces like it. Assemblage Collective is making more around identity and sentimentality, and I’m eager to see what they do and how I can take part.


Tara is a London-based storyteller and museum professional working regularly in the mediums of poetry, design, photography, and spoken word. She is also an ethnographic anthropologist interested in the emotional and community value of local pubs and holds a Master’s Degree in Museum and Gallery Studies from Kingston University. You can find out more by visiting her website here, where this piece was originally published, or connect with her on Instagram here.
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Projects

‘Zines and Paper Dreams’ with Artizine’s Ioana Simion

7 March 2021

Ioana Simion is the creative brains behind Artizine UK, a not for profit initiative which aims to connect communities together through zine-making workshops, kits, and creative activities.

She kindly agreed to join us at our latest meeting to share her insights into collaboration and the vision behind her zine-making initiative. Below we’ve shared some of her insights:

On collaboration:

“First, just think around you. Who can you immediately contact, and then their friends, and then the friends of their friends. And that’s kind of how I sparked my collaborations. And then Instagram is great. But with Instagram you do have to build a relationship with people. So the workshops I do now were just based around following each other, being active in each others feeds and stuff like that. I really love seeing stuff, so I pretty much follow everyone back who is a creative. And I really I’m just generally interested. So like, I comment I, I share on my stories… And I would like to think that Instagram is about building genuine connections and communities. People would be surprised that you don’t really have to come from the same industry to actually make something together.

On her live Artizine workshops:

Reusing and recycling:

“In our real life workshops, everything is sourced from donations. We will usually have like a pile of scraps. So we will never really use magazines and stuff like that. It will just be scraps, really, packaging, anything that we can reinvent and reinterpret. It’s all about hacktivism and craftivism.

Creating a safe space/environment:

“It’ll be quite a safe group. I like more intimate sessions. So we’ll be maybe 5, 6, 7 people. Because then, you know, the storytelling is a very important part of the workshop. I want people to feel like they belong and just be together, because I think just the act of getting together is quite political, in a way. Sometimes people really don’t want to talk and it’s okay because when you’re zine-making you’re quite into your own creative process, and a lot of people are very just immersed in that. So I just like letting them be like and saying “yeah, you can chill, it’s fine.” Some of the workshops will be quite long, actually. If there was someone that really enjoyed being in the space, I would just sit there for like three hours, you know, if I had the time.”

The Artizine ethos:

“I would say at the beginning of the session, “everything is free, you don’t have to give any money. But if you want, you can leave your zine at the end”. As in, “this is my creation. It’s part of Artizine now”. And You can come and create, you can bring back donations, or you can leave your zine. So we have this little archive of scenes. And it’s kind of like every workshop is a time capsule. When I look back at them, I know the person. You know, I remember Chloe – she did that beautiful zine. And it kind of just sits in my memory. And it’s very beautiful. It’s very close.”

On what’s next for Artizine:

“I’ve just started on these artist collaboration kits, which I’m super excited about. So I invite an illustrator to create a piece of art and then we sort of create a story around the artwork. So then you get an original art work and zine kit together, which I thought was quite cool. The first one that I’ve created with my good friend and illustrator Karolina Trhonova of 3 Angles Art is based around folklore and myth. I don’t want Artizine to just be about zine-making. I want it to be about music, anything that my friends are doing and people are interested in, but related back to zines of course.”

On the value of zine-making:

“What I love about zine-making is the accessibility. Everybody can make a zine and feel empowered. I love it because it’s based around unheard voices and unheard narratives, and I think this is what we need nowadays.”


Want to find out more? Why not connect with Artizine UK over on Instagram or Facebook? And be sure to check out Artizine’s upcoming Zoom workshop…we’ll see you there!