Art as Activism
by Lisa Evans
ARTIST, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST TRACEY MOBERLY FROM SWANSEA HAS MANY STRINGS TO HER BOW. TRACEY TOLD LISA EVANS ABOUT HER PROTESTS IN DOWNING STREET, HOW SHE'S MADE ART OUT OF 100,000 TEXT MESSAGES AND WHY SHE'S MADE LINGERIE OUT OF BODY HAIR.
''A mysterious envelope symbol popped up on the screen of my phone and I had no clue what it was, but I was excited. In my haste to open it, I accidently deleted it and felt absolutely devastated. From that moment on I vowed never to delete another message again."
Here, artist Tracey Moberly reminisces about the day, 13 years ago, when she received her fIrst text message. She now has a collection of 100,000 of them. After going through a divorce, Tracey, 47, from Swansea; says that when she received a SMS message of support from a friend or loved one it made every day easier. "Whenever I heard that 'ping' of an incoming message, it was like an electronic sugar rush through my body," she says. "That feeling still remains over a decade on."
Tracey started writing down the messages in journals and on scraps of paper and soon hit upon the idea of immortalising the texts in a book. Tracey's unusual, unique memoir-style book, Text-Me- Up! was released in May 2011. The book includes messages from Tracey's close friends such as convicted drug smuggler and author of Mr Nice Howard Marx, singer Pete Doherty and artist Banksy.
Tracey hosted several distinctive launch events for the book, including releasing texts attached to one thousand balloons in the middle of Manchester. "I attached my phone number to the balloons and urged people to text me once they found it," she says. ''A week later I received a message from Amsterdam!"
Within the book Tracey recounts some of her life experiences such as visiting the Ghetto Biennale (an art festival) in Haiti just one month before the earthquake hit in 2010. "The festival displayed mainly voodoo art," she says. "In the west people see voodoo as "vil black magic but it's the , main religion in Haiti.
"I was drawn to the use of human skulls in many of the artworks. In the local cemetery, many graves are rented for a six.month period; after this, decaying corpses are taken out and some coffIns fmd their ways into the artists' work."
During her time in the country Tracey worked on a 'mobilography' project whereby she handed camera phones to the locals who photographed their surroundings. After the earthquake, CNN asked to use the collection of images to represent what Haiti looked like before the disaster.
"I saw the video footage of the disaster on TV and I was in disbelief," she says. "The healthy, happy people I had become friends with three weeks previously had limbs missing and their houses were in ruins. I've never been so close to a disaster. It really distressed me and it was too close to home."
Tracey recently revisited Haiti over the Christmas period and is still working closely with a Haitian voodoo flag maker on a project that has been ongoing for five years.
The flag maker is turning Tracey's text messages into traditional Haitian works of art. "I create the designs," says Tracey. "Then I have them translated ·into Creole (the national language of Haiti) then the flag maker produces a unique creation.'" Not only is she an experimental artist who's travelled the world, but Tracey, who used to co-own trendy arts venue, The Foundry, in East London, classes herself as a political activist. She believes in using her work to fight directly on behalf of an issue; using art as protest.
Tracey says that The Foundry wasn't just a place where Pete Doherty was a resident poet or where singers like Kate Nash started their careers, it was also a place where protests were organised. Protesting became so important to her that in 2006 Tracey, along with political activist and comedian Mark Thomas, set up a 'protest solutions company' called McDemos.
"People hire us at McDemos to protest on their behalves when they don't have time to do it themselves," says Tracey. "We can do anything from holding a banner up on the street corner, to organising a full parade of people to dress up and perform a demonstration in front of 10 Downing Street or the Houses of Parliament." Surprisingly, Tracey has never run into trouble while protesting. She says that all the protests are done 'tongue in cheek', they don't cause harm to people and they don't break the law; their purpose is to raIse awareness.
"I know my rights," says Tracey. "Sometimes you just have to challenge laws for people to take notice." Tracey's 'art as activism' has taken her around the world.
One shocking, but much more light-hearted campaign that Tracey was involved with was a fashion show for which she designed and made lingerie out of human hair.
She worked with comedian Shazia Mirza on BBC's F*** Off, I'm a Hairy Woman, an hour long television documentary about the body image and stereotypes surrounding women with body hair. The resulting catwalk show became the unofficial opening of London Fashion . Week in spring 2007 and raised a few eyebrows. "The show was salute to hairy women," says Tracey.
"People like Richard andJudy, Howard Marx and lots of other celebrities donated their hair to be spun into lingerie for real women to wear on the catwalk.
"It was a huge success.
"I want to make people aware of the world we live in. In the past I've been guilty of thinking 'it's not my problem, other people will deal with it' but I've now realised that I should and I can stand up for the things that are close to my heart." Tracey's book Text-Me-Up! is available at Uplands Bookshop, Swansea and Cover to Cover, Mumbles.