SOS takes her brand of Activist Art to Europe in order to raise awareness of FGM

Campaigning street artist S.O.S has been taking her artistic message across borders with a recent visit to Austria resulting in a discussion with the Austrian parliament on how to end FGM and how street art can be used to promote social change.

S.O.S which stands for ‘Save our Souls’ is a Brighton based artist who first came to our attention during the Femme Fierce festival earlier this year.  There she painted a piece of work featuring the Disney icon Alice in Wonderland which become known as the ‘Alice against FGM’ piece.  It gained a lot of attention and we interviewed S.O.S as she recreated the work at the same location later in the year.

sos sarah ellen

S.O.S in the Ocean Hair salon painting a giant mermaid

We are meeting in Shepherds Bush, S.O.S is painting a mural at the Oasis Hair salon.  It’s going to be a huge shimmering mermaid designed to be impactful to the passer by on the street as they gaze through the window and into the hairdressers.  Campaigning art this is not but fun art it is, it’s not all “artivism”.

S.O.S has been working with China Girl, another artist whose work highlights social issues and a fellow “artivist”.  The plan was to bring the issue to Austria and produce art that emphasised what they were trying to say.  In total two Alice murals were painted, one at Das Werks in Vienna and the other at a place called Papierfabrik in Graz with a mural curated by local agency iOnArt.

S.O.S had hoped her art installations would raise awareness and open a debate about a practice which she says many Austrians might not think has anything to do with them due to the cultural implications of the topic. “Many people do not even fully understand what F.G.M is” she explained.

The issue of FGM and many other issues of gender based violence is one that is very much on the European Union agenda.  “FGM is officially categorised as a brutal violation of human rights” says S.O.S. ” The most recent study of Female Genital mutilation in the EU and Croatia was undertaken in 2012, but we do not have an exact study of the amount of girls at risk in Austria nearly four years after the study highlighting that potentially thousands of girls are at risk here.”

Speaking of her most famous work the ‘Alice against FGM’ image where she places a shocked Alice, a well known as a Disney icon, peering around a curtain which contains symbolic images.  “I specifically chose this Disney styled characterisation of Alice as she’s very popular and surprisingly (for Disney) not a princess who needs rescuing… She is a young girl going out into the world exploring; much the same age as a girl who would be subjected to this FGM gender-violence.”

Whilst given a platform in Austria, the artist called for the country to begin the process of trying to quantify the amount of girls who are really at risk as a first step towards helping victims through actual policy change.  “We don’t actually really know the full scope of the problem” says S.O.S with only 7 out of 28 countries having an actual study which is up to date.

femme fierce S.o.s

S.O.S painted the original piece in the Leake Street tunnel during Femme Fierce to raise awareness of the horrors of FGM.

The main report in this area is from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) which shows where countries are failing.  “There are hundreds of thousands of young girls at risk throughout Europe and each country needs to take local responsibility” says S.O.S.  The report itself stating that “it is unlikely that their needs will be acknowledged and met, nor will their protection be prioritised, unless steps towards calculating their numbers in the EU are taken.”

So the message has been taken to Europe.  According to S.O.S her art is political in so far as the intention is to push for policy change.  “It’s harnessing the appeal (of the image) to spread a message” she says.  And of course it’s a powerful message.   Public art used to raise awareness of an issue that still affects so many people across Europe and, like Alice, when you start peering around the curtain there is still so much more to do.

S.O.S was interviewed over email and in person at the Ocean Hair Salon in Shepherds Bush where she was painting a mural.  Her visit to Austria took place between 9th and 16th November 2015 and her website can be found here.