Belonging is a subject that designer and artist Morag Myerscough has long been fascinated by, so when she was commissioned by the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft to create a project in response to the work of artist, activist and nun Corita Kent, it was a natural choice to examine the theme.
As well as creating her own artworks and designs, Corita Kent often ran workshops to encourage creativity in others, and Myerscough used assignments from her book Learning From The Heart (a blueprint for creative exploration and community empowerment, published posthumously in 1992) to create the Belonging project.
“She was very inspiring,” says Myerscough of Kent. “I love the way she worked, I love her education, I love that she worked in social situations with people, she believed everybody can be creative, she believed in teaching people how to open their minds to different ways of seeing things. Being creative doesn’t have to be a secret.”
“When I read that book, suddenly I felt ‘wow, there’s so many ways that I’ve been always working throughout my career that aligns with the way Corita worked’,” she continues. “From this enlightened moment from reading this book, I thought it would be really great to do the workshops and to actually choose some assignments from her book and then build that into the subject that I’m obsessed by and I talk about all the time, ‘belonging’.”
Myerscough has worked with different groups across Sussex to produce visual responses to the theme. The end result is a series of placards created by both Myerscough and members of the group, which are then displayed on a specially commissioned bandstand that is touring around the area. At each new stop the placards will be replaced with those made locally.
The project was very much a collaborative process. “It would been wrong for me to have gone to each of the groups and said ‘oh tell me what you think about belonging, ok, I’m going to go and do this’,” says Myerscough. “We had to go through this way of opening up dialogue and conversation by doing these assignments and various things.
“[The aim was] for people to start thinking themselves what belonging is about…. It ends up belonging to them, it’s their piece of work with me making it happen…. I believe you can make group work and it is as good [as solo work], if you do it in the right way. And I truly believe Corita thought that. That work will have energy, it will grow.”
With Brexit rumbling along in the background, ‘belonging’ is a very pertinent topic to explore in Britain today, though Myerscough says that the conversations that the groups had extended beyond politics into far more personal territory. “Probably underlying it there is politics, but the outcome was more about people’s inner self, and feeling of happiness and joy,” she says.
“With one group – the most diverse group, in Crawley – they started talking about how belonging was about belonging to the country they had originally come from. Then by the time we got to the end of it, they had also concluded that actually for them in the end belonging was maybe more about their family, who now live in the UK. So then the person who’s home was originally Nigeria knows that their space is with their family now. Their sense of belonging has shifted to being less about place and more about being with their family. Because if they go back they feel slightly displaced.
“Having these discussions now is really key, but I think it also depends on what groups of people you are discussing with,” she continues. “So if you’re discussing with very diverse cultures, we talk about the different countries and cultures but then if you talk to maybe an older age group – whose families may have left them, maybe they didn’t see them very much, maybe they’ve moved to another part of the UK – they now had this community of like-minded people who gave them their sense of belonging. It can evolve over your lifetime – it’s not a linear concept, it’s quite a layered concept, and can change.
“Also, I think in the past belonging to a church or belonging to a religion was a given, so you already had that, you don’t have a choice. Whereas I’m not religious. I felt very strongly [a sense of] belonging to my family but when I left home I didn’t really fit in very well. So for me [belonging is] my studio and my space … and it’s not about materialism, it’s about a space and the ability to do what you want. For a lot of people we talked to, it’s also about the landscape. It’s not always about people, because you could live alone and feel totally at one. You don’t even have to have religion, you can just feel at one with nature.”
As well as creating the bandstands, Myerscough and her partner and collaborator Luke Morgan also created their own works on the theme, which are on display at the Ditchling Museum alongside Kent’s work. For Myerscough, the project is the completion of work that has preoccupied her for some time. “This is a project I’ve been wanting to do for years, and I think it’s so exciting that it’s going to move,” she says.
“Corita’s projects and assignments all led up to celebration and it doesn’t matter what you’re celebrating. Some of hers were celebration about religion, some were more activist celebration, about making a cause happen. This is the vehicle for each of the groups, in each of the destinations, to have their own parade, their own celebration, their own way of expressing what belonging means to them. It’s got all different levels of life really, that’s the idea of it.”