Following a call out for artists in late August 2020 by Fusion Arts and partner Oxford City Council, three new murals were installed in Oxford and along Cowley Road. In response to our current pandemic, each mural spreads a “stay safe and look after each other” message , whilst reflecting the area and Oxford’s diverse communities.
As the project was getting underway, Artistic Director Kieran Cox commented:
These multiple commissions are supporting a variety of artists to produce meaningful, relevant and inspirational artworks on the streets of Oxford City Centre and Cowley Road. The murals reinforce the importance of community, thank key workers and ultimately tell the stay safe message.
We’re pleased to be working again with Oxford City Council. We’re grateful for their support and their recognition of the importance of arts and culture, and the vital role it plays in the lives of our communities and the local economy.
Artist Luke Embden was chosen to produce the mural on the boarding covering 1 – 3 George Street, one of Oxford’s busiest streets. Hailing from near Chipping Norton, and now based both in London and Berlin, Embden’s bold, geometric, pop-art inspired mural reflects the city, its community and reiterates the stay safe message.
The aim for this mural was to bring vibrancy and a wow-factor to the disused units, creating a spot of interest and excitement for Oxford locals and visitors alike.
Embden has used his bold colour palette and infectious graphic style on projects all over the world, but was back in Oxfordshire with family at the time of this commission. Embden does commercial work for global brands but his passion lies in community-based projects where he interacts and engages with the public, looking upon his work as performance art, feeding off the surrounding environment and the energy of people that he meets.
“My vision was to mix iconic imagery associated with Oxford, wordplay and bold graphic imagery which is my signature style.”
During September 2020, artist Bryony Benge-Abbot created a mural in Manzil Way Gardens that incorporated statements of gratitude for acts of kindness that people have experienced throughout lockdown. These statements were collected from the local community both over social media and face-to-face, and are included in the mural as a thank you, demonstrating how our communities rely on each other and are interconnected.
Whilst painting the mural, Bryony commented:
“This is exactly the kind of project I love – purposeful, meaningful public engagement with science, injecting beauty into urban space, conveying important messages of compassion and interconnectedness. Street art is such a great way to publicly express gratitude towards key workers and to celebrate the greater sense of solidarity that emerged during lockdown, in spite of all of the hardships and challenges we’ve been facing.
I hope that this heightened awareness and appreciation of community is retained as we move into the ‘new normal’ and am very much looking forward to receiving messages from local residents, which I will incorporate into my ‘organic root design’ of the city.”
Bryony’s creative practice has been shaped by 13 years of experience curating, designing and producing exhibitions for world-leading social history museums and scientific research institutes. Her bold, colourful paintings are built in layers, interweaving memory-traces with maps, ancient mythology with botany, and playing with scale, colour and pattern in the search for fresh perspectives on human and nature connectedness.
While she was engaged in this project, Bryony was also Public Engagement Manager (exhibitions) at The Francis Crick Institute, which is a Covid-19 testing and research site.
Three Oxford based artists Lisa Curtis, Eleanor (Nor) Greenhalgh and Sam Skinner collaborated on the final mural on boarding covering the front of The Bullingdon on Cowley Road.
Of their mural, the artists commented:
“We wanted to emphasise the importance of care and looking out for each other as our best chance of fighting Covid. The community itself must be our protection. The phrase ‘you are my contingency’ flips the authoritative tone of usual Covid messaging and underlines vulnerability: we all ultimately rely on one another.”
Nor works across visual art and facilitation, focussing on themes of gender and the negotiation of shared space. She facilitates the community image archive CowleyRoad.org, funded by Lankelly Chase and Greening Lambourn Trust and has recently produced the Absent Friends papier mache sculptures around the city. See Nor’s website here. (https://eleanorg.org/)
Sam Skinner is an artist, curator and researcher. His work is often produced through processes of co-design and community engagement, with a strong emphasis on research, participation, and conversation. See Sam’s website here.
Lisa Curtis is an illustrator and designer who has painted a number of murals in Oxford the last few years, ranging from wall scale works of art at local pubs and cafes, to much larger murals commissioned within the community. See Lisa’s website here.
Funding and support for this project kindly came from the Government's Reopening High Streets Safely fund (RHSS), Oxfordshire Country Council, as well as from, City Councilors Jamalia Begum Azad, Tom Hayes, Alex Hollingsworth and Richard Howlett. The Bullingdon supported the project by installing an artwork on their building and Oxford Direct Services were instrumental in putting up the new hoardings.
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