Murals for the masses

Lennie Varvarides introduces Words Not Walls, a public art exhibition connecting people to their community

Public artwork in Albany Park created by Shey Press (credit Kazimir Bielecki)
Public artwork in Albany Park created by Shey Press (credit Kazimir Bielecki)

I am a local Enfield resident, text-based artist and the founder of DYSPLA, an arts studio producing the work of dyslexic and neurodivergent creatives, which I run with creative director Kazimir Bielecki.

We both identify as being neurodivergent and passionately believe that art is the most powerful form of activism. During lockdown we, like most, had time on our hands to re-evaluate not only how we are going to survive the global pandemic, but also how we are going to use this time as an opportunity to live differently.

Lockdown instigated the need to feel more connected emotionally and physically and that meant reframing the meaning of ‘work’ and ‘home’. These conversations with Kazimir and myself formed the seeds for our new Arts Council-funded project, Words Not Walls, an innovative and ambitious street gallery experience.

The ethos of the public installation is to inject a feeling of creativity in places and people who do not regularly engage with art and culture. Local artist Shey Press was commissioned to design the typography and the artwork after we came across his own public art around Enfield.

Poetry has taken over our streets and we are so grateful to everyone who made this project possible. There are a total of five buildings across Turkey Street, Enfield Wash and Enfield Highway for pedestrians to seek out and enjoy, all made possible by Honilands Primary School, Enfield North MP Feryal Clark, Enfield Council, Arriva Rail London and Transport for London.

A private view took place last month in the form of a poetry trail that started at Albany Park, with local guest poet Cheryl Moskowitz reading from her latest book and an informal model-making workshop designed by Think With Card and led by Diversity Lab.

The majority of the poetry was written by ten children aged seven-to-ten years from Honilands Primary School, which I then developed and curated during a six-week after-school poetry club last summer. I’m proud to say that every single child now sees themselves as a poet – hopefully for the rest of their life!

A 'Words Not Walls' poetry mural at Turkey Street Station (credit Kazimir Bielecki)
A ‘Words Not Walls’ poetry mural at Turkey Street Station (credit Kazimir Bielecki)

Nothing on this scale has ever happened before on this side of the A10. It’s not the litter on the floor that people are looking at now, it’s the art on the walls. We plan to keep all the artwork up for as long as possible, so that every pedestrian has the opportunity to enjoy the experience.

The goal was to make art accessible to all people, as well as to normalise it in public places. Why can’t a street in our neck of the woods be an artistic happening? Why shouldn’t it be just as normal to see art as it is to see litter on our streets? Do we not deserve beauty as well?

People are indirectly becoming part of the tapestry of the artwork they pass, while getting on with their day. They are no longer just pedestrians; when they engage in reading poetry, they are participants.

This art project has us all talking now. People walking their dog, taking their kids to school or going to work, are engaging with art and reading micro-poems in places where there is usually no artistic stimulation. It’s an odd sight to see a pedestrian stop and have a personal reflective moment with text-based artwork. But it is happening and, when it does, I feel proud to have curated something that connects strangers not only to other people but to themselves too.

Find a list of locations for where to see the Words Not Walls artwork:
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