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 it is meant to raise awareness of the practice of FGM.
That image was of a shocked Alice peeking around a curtain. Embroidered with roses and scissors. It was an attempt to raise awareness of the horrors of FGM. This on a day when the tunnel was taken over to provide support for Plan UK’s ‘Because I’m a Girl‘ campaign.
Return to the Tunnel
Returning to the tunnel a few months later. 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.
A former footwear designer and marketing and advertising executive. S.O.S eventually got disillusioned with the ‘for profit’ world. She chose to dedicate more time to her art. Supporting social issues bringing social change through her art. “I saw through my career lots of things that I shouldn’t have seen” she says. “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.
Raising Awareness of FGM
“I chose an architipal British girl with blonde hair and blue eyes”. This is 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. 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. 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 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. This 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. However the message is still alive online and that’s what matters for this campaigning street artist.
Sarah Gillings aka S.O.S was interviewed about her FGM mural in the Leake Street Tunnel on 22 April 2015. She painted her Alice through the curtain image originally painted at the Femme Fierce festival on 8 March 2015. For another article featuring the work of SOS click here.