One of the most iconic images from the recent Femme Fierce festival was that of a cartoon Alice in Wonderland painted by Brighton based Sarah Gillings aka S.O.S or ‘Save Our Souls’.
That image, of a shocked Alice peeking around a curtain, embroidered with roses and scissors was an attempt to raise awareness of the horrors of FGM on a day when the tunnel was taken over to provide support for Plan Uk’s ‘Because I’m a Girl‘ campaign.
Returning to the tunnel a few months later and all semblances of the event are now gone, such is the high turnover of graffiti based images in the Leake Street Tunnel. Now though the artist is hosting a graffiti workshop with some local children and Alice is making an appearance again. Catching up with her as she paints a variant of her Femme Fierce image Inspiring City was able to find out a bit more about the motivations of this campaigning street artist.
A former footwear designer and marketing and advertising executive, S.O.S eventually got disillusioned with the ‘for profit’ world, choosing to dedicate more time to her art and supporting social issues bringing, as she describes, social change through her art. “I saw through my career lots of things that I shouldn’t have seen. Bad conditions in factories, children in factories, lots of things that the public didn’t know.” Railing against the lack of ethical practices S.O.S chose a different path “this was the nineties and things have moved on but it’s still not great” she sighs.
“I chose an architipal British girl with blonde hair and blue eyes” she says of her choice of Alice as the protagonist of her striking picture. “Alice represents the age of a girl when she’s coming up to the age where she might be subjected to FGM.” That, says Sarah, is anything from the age of 5 to about 13, and Alice she estimates, would probably be around 9.
“She’s really just having an adventure isn’t she Alice?” ponders S.O.S as she explains further around her choice of subject. “The fact that Alice is just coming out into the world and being shocked at what she sees”. But of course the choice of the blonde, blue eyed Alice as the protagonist is meant to shock. “Most of the girls that have this done to them are different ethnic minorities and so I wanted to create that juxtaposition which said, well if it was a blonde haired blue eyed girl would we make more fuss about this?”
One of the statistics that really shocked S.O.S prior to creating her art in support of the ‘Because I’m a Girl’ campaign was the number of children at risk in the UK. Up to 66,000 women are living with the effects of FGM in the UK according to government statistics with an estimated 20,000 girls currently at risk. People learning about the number for the first time were shocked often thinking that the number represented a worldwide figure as opposed to those at risk locally.
Now of course, the second Alice mural has also gone such is the rapid turnover of art in Leake Street but the message is still alive online and that’s kind of the point for this campaigning street artist.
S.O.S was interviewed in the Leake Street Tunnel on 22 April 2015 as she painted her Alice through the curtain image originally painted at the Femme Fierce festival on 8 March 2015, International Womens Day