The Art Insider: March '18

This image: more of an avalanche, at Wysing Arts Centre

Ruthie Collins gives you the lowdown on arty happenings around Cambridge in March 

Spring shivers her way into Cambridge, with scores of daffodils and a sense of renewal. Byard Art’s new show, Nature In Mind is a heady mix of springtime freshness: all stoneware lambs (Vicky Yates), stand-out butterflies (Helen Ward) and vivid, brimming fruit bowls (Relton Marine). British artist Maria Rivans’ vintage ephemera modern-day femmes, bursting with foliage, are like a springtime masquerade ball, full of exquisite surrealists. With the Own Art scheme available in-store, you can spread payment of the works over the year, making a bargain totally possible.

Things of Beauty Growing: British studio pottery, a new show opening on 20 March at the Fitzwilliam Museum, is a timely reminder both of this sense of reinvention and the elements. With 100 works on show from potters including Grayson Perry, Edmund de Waal and Lucy Rie, the exhibition celebrates this dynamic art form, paying particular attention to evolution of vessels, such as the moon jar. Originally on show at the Yale Center for British Art, in the USA, it marks the global story of pottery, showing its international scope. Clare Twomey’s monumental installation, Made In China, complements the exhibition with 80 large-scale porcelain vases that seek to highlight the difference in labour conditions and cost of production between East and West. I’ve often wondered why the quality and ethical nature of British manufacturing and production isn’t made more of, both in politics and the cultural world – in terms of a positive form of patriotism. Quality costs, but what is the price of outsourcing industry to places where workers rights matter less? 

more of an avalanche, at Wysing Arts Centre till 15 April, cleverly subverts the term snowflake (used by those on the political right to deride those who comment on issues, increasingly portraying forms of dissent as an irritating, dismissible ‘whinge’) into a rallying bite-back, a pointed critique of throwaway language designed to insult. The exhibition explores what it takes for people in marginalised positions to speak out and the mechanisms used to stop them doing so. Starting with vulnerability, it also looks at strength in numbers and networks – watch out for Zinzi Minott’s Gun Fingers and Opaque Bullets (2017), which evokes the emancipatory nature of music and dance to foster resistance in communities. Works by Wynter, The Newsreel Collective and Isaac Julien show the links between the rise of toxic masculinity and its need to silence an ‘oversensitive voice’, as character building, exposing terms, such as ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘loony left’, as signs of culture wars throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

“A heady mix of springtime freshness"

I’ll never forget that feeling of exuberance, on the Women’s March in 2016, the overwhelming sense of empowerment, strength in numbers, followed by a sense of disorientated assault, on hearing that Piers Morgan was denigrating all of us that marched as ‘rabid feminists’ on national TV. What, exactly, is ‘rabid’, about pushing for women to continue to have access to birth control? What era are we all living in? 

Meanwhile, good news for those of you who are creative mamas; there’s a new Cambridge branch of national network, Mothers Who Make. With a launch meet-up at the Whipple Museum this January, they recently took part in the first of an intergenerational Pearls of Wisdom Social Club, at Kettle’s Yard, where, together with the Art Salon, I’m celebrating community voice over a cuppa, sharing people’s thoughts on the show and collections. Set up by performer Matilda Leyser, Mothers Who Make (MWM) has gone from strength to strength, winning Arts Council funding to grow this grass roots network, which seeks recognition and an increased sense of value for mothers in the arts. 

“The cultural status of motherhood is low – we’re taught that our identity is completely tied up with what we do, meaning what we bring in, economically,” commented Leyser, in The Telegraph. “I felt very clearly that the message I was receiving as a woman was that I had to compromise either on my artistic output or my mothering. But neither is a 9-5 job.” 

The Cambridge Mothers Who Make is led by actress and writer Vanessa Ackerman, who’s known in the city for her fabulous work tutoring young people through creative play and performance, with her company, Cambridge Drama Projects. “There are so many passionate, talented mothers in Cambridge,” Ackerman explains to me. “MWM will offer them a space in which they can feel supported, valued and connected to others. Somewhere they can explore how to best integrate motherhood and creativity.” To get involved please contact Vanessa at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..