Artist Duo Go Digital During Lockdown
(Image courtesy of Neelam Saredia-Brayley)
28th May 2021
By Carly Maling
Digital art isn’t the first phrase that comes to mind when you think about Neelam Saredia-Brayley and Adrian Saredia-Brayley's work. Yet, the pair have fully embraced new media for People United’s kind places and spaces exhibition. Before I start asking you about the new work, I'd be interested to know how you both started collaborating together?
Neelam: I wanted a more live drawing experience. So, I wrote a poem called ‘Home’. That was about our future dreams and hopes for a house because we were figuring out where to live and there weren't that many options. We were just kind of dreaming about this. Then we choreographed ‘Home’ to live illustrations that Adrian came up with. I think I had a couple of ideas for them too. We had a big flip chart as well...
Adrian: Yeah, I feel like it started with Neelam reading through her poem a few times. Then also giving it to me to read and then I think I picked out a few things as we went through it. I was like maybe I'll draw something for this, and this'll be the next, this'll be the next, and figured out what that would be together more or less.
Neelam: Then we performed it at the Wise Words Festival and a lot went wrong!
Adrian: It was great though.
Neelam: It was so great. It was really useful but I was really nervous so I was so fast and then Adrian was trying to keep up with drawing. Then he had to tape a page back on because it wouldn't flip over.
Adrian: We didn't have a flip chart at the time so we asked if there would be one available. To which they said yes. Then when we got there, the flip chart paper was just tied to the side of the yurt so it was all kind of crinkled. We sorted all that out but then it meant I just had to tear the pages off instead of turning it over. Part of our poem is that you put the first page back at the end. So, I had to hurriedly find the edge of the Sellotape and stick it back on. But it worked.
Neelam: It resonated with a lot of people as well. We had quite a nice energy on stage anyway and we were just quite happy doing it.
Adrian: One of the best!
Neelam: It is one of the best.
Adrian: It maybe would've been a one off but then the reaction that people had and people saying how different it seems, "we haven't seen anything like it before", it was like.. ooh we'll carry on.
('Home' Poetry and Illustration, image courtesy of Neelam Saredia-Brayley and Adrian Saredia-Brayley)
From what I know you're both traditional artists. Do either of you have a connection with digital art, or is this a new media for you?
Neelam: It's kind of a new thing for me. I was learning how to edit audio for the People United commission but just learning how to do that really sparked something. Since last year, I've been branching out into video poetry. That's taking free online archive footage, adding my own words and music to create something else. I've always wanted to be able to do that because I like that multidisciplinary art.
Adrian: I used to be fully traditional. I was always a bit intimidated by where to start and reluctant to sit down and learn digital. However, Kindfulness Spaces is when I started doing more. I had to switch to more digital stuff when I hurt my arm. I couldn't draw properly for a couple of weeks. Since then, I've learnt more and more and I'm maybe like 95% digital now. A lot of the stuff that I do with my drawings is mostly pencils and then I'll scan it and then I'll work on it digitally adding colour.
('Moon Travel', image courtesy of Neelam Saredia-Brayley)
Could you explain more about what Kindfulness Spaces is?
Neelam: People United is an amazing art organisation based in Canterbury. They're all about kindness and using arts as a way to improve everyone's life. So, they had commissioned for kind places and spaces. Which was all about just designing or redesigning something that will have a positive impact on all of our communities, or encourage prosocial behaviour.
We picked the proposal that both of us would redesign. A place that people could just find some time for themselves. We imagined that these spaces would be present in airports or train stations or shopping centres and that it would just kind of be a respite. We designed particular things that would go in those spaces just to kind of encourage that. But the name Kindfulness Spaces...
Adrian: Kindfulness is a term that was invented by a monk named Ajahn Brahm. He's a Buddhist monk who came up with this term for meditation. It's like mindfulness and kindness, so applying attention to something but then also offering it kindness as well. If you're focusing on certain parts of your body, it's not to just be aware of it but to also offer some kindness and some space. We just thought that was a really important thing that was undervalued. It’s quite rare for people to take some time to be kind, patient and gentle with themselves, because everything is sort of pushing against that. To be busier and do more...
Neelam: Especially in those spaces: Airports, Train stations and Shopping centres. It can be quite overwhelming, if you're waiting for a flight or a train that's delayedand you're angry, you take that anger to your next appointment. We kind of wanted to find a way around it. So, for the project we had the floor plan which was digital art. It was a digital illustration that Adrian and I both came up with, but then Adrian drew. That was during his arm injury so it was originally going to be a traditional drawing.
Adrian: I was even thinking I could try some watercolour and maybe it was going to show a scene from the ground.
Neelam: Yeah, that was it. Then it didn't work out. We had to switch to it being a digital floor plan but it looks really beautiful.
Adrian: It works really well!
Neelam: Adrian led the guided meditation. I wrote some poetry and edited it to music. I had my photography in there as well. If you were in the Kindfulness space, you'd see the pictures or you'd put on headphones, or connect your own earphones into it and just take a break and access that art instead of being really frustrated. We made sure that the space was safe and that it was really accessible too. So, we had big soft chairs as well as spaces for wheelchair users. All of the music stations were hearing loop friendly.
It was just all about calmness and great art and loads of plants as well, and even the plants would be safe and non-toxic, low maintenance. It was all about decreasing anxiety and taking time out of your day to stop rushing and just enjoy those moments and have whatever relief you need to.
Also being quite anti-capitalistic, we didn't want it to be filled with adverts because a lot of billboards and signs when you're in those waiting rooms, like in train stations, are all adverts and they make you feel terrible.
So our piece is just about taking time for you.
Then we displayed it, it was launched in September on People United's website as part of their online exhibition, and I think it was just put out to the community as well, just to kind of showcase and to have this really beautiful reimagining of the possibility of this perfect space.
(Image courtesy of Neelam Saredia-Brayley and Adrian Saredia-Brayley)
Did either of you create your own Kindfulness spaces at home, to get yourselves through lockdown?
Adrian: I made a café; I created a menu that I drew and I wrote different things depending on what we had. If we ordered a pizza, then a pizza would be on the menu. I set up in the kitchen, in our flat, an ironing board across the kitchen door with a table cloth over it and that was the ordering part and then I'd cook the stuff that Neelam ordered. We had the café music, like the soundtrack, and things like that.
Neelam: We’ve since moved to a cottage in Chartham Hatch. We have a garden which is so nice. It was so hard in the summer; our old flat was like a greenhouse. We’re learning how to grow our own veg. It feels like we’ve moved into our own Kindfulness space.
(Image courtesy of Neelam Saredia-Brayley and Adrian Saredia-Brayley)
Do you think that these spaces could become important for women by providing a safe place for them?
Neelam: Yeah, I think so. That’s a really good point actually. I guess the whole point of the space is that it’s a space to be really kind and gentle with yourself and each other. That’s quite a nice value to have but I'm not sure if we could gender the space by having a woman only space. That might be good but that also means non binary people can’t be included.
Adrian: Women only times... women and non-binary... non-CIS male times and other times for everybody!
Neelam: That’s true or having chaperones who are there to help. That will mean if someone doesn’t really understand how to use the space, they could help with that. Also, someone to watch and make sure that things are okay.
Adrian: Maybe a female... not guard but someone who's there.
Neelam: Having safe spaces for women is so important. I don’t really go anywhere without Adrian anymore but I don’t think I would feel safe on my own in the dark and that’s not fair. So many women feel the same way and it's horrible.
What’s next? What happens after this project?
Adrian: My focus is going to be on comics. I just recently found out I've received Arts Council DYCP funding to develop and research my comic for the next 6 months! I’ve got this idea for a diverse and queer sci-fi comic that I want to put together called Norm. Which I am hoping is going to be really good because I really love comics and I really love sci-fi but there’s a big lack of diverse characters. There’s still issues with overly sexualised women and really masculine men and stuff like that so yeah, I want to challenge that.
Neelam: I’m obviously doing more poetry films. With the next one being for a climate cabaret by the charity called Possible. They are all about climate change and raising awareness. I’m creating two films to go along with this showcase. Which is so cool because I’m doing my films but there's also other poets and a lot of drag acts. It’s amazing to put it all together. It’s all about how the arts are good for social change. I’m still working on my Queer Brown Skin project as well. It was going to be a theatre show. Apples and Snakes have been encouraging me to think wider, and changing it into a film or a series of films which is so exciting. It means it will be quite accessible as well as it can be online, which excites me a lot more than having to do a one-hour show!
('Norm', image courtesy of Adrian Saredia-Brayley)
About the artists -
Neelam Saredia-Brayley is an award-winning poet, captivating audiences for over 9 years. Effortlessly warm and honest, Neelam works with illustrators, musicians and dancers, creating unique, multi-disciplinary performances. She is a slam winner, regular headliner, and appeared on BBC Radio Kent, BBC Upload Festival & CSRfm. Neelam has also appeared at Sofar Sounds Cambridge, 451 City, Jawdance, TongueTANGLE, bOing! International Family Festival, Marlowe Theatre, Ramsgate Music Hall, ERIC & POW! Festival, Greenbelt Festival, Turner Contemporary, Hammer and Tongue Cambridge, and regularly performs and works with Gulbenkian. In 2020 she was awarded the Apples and Snakes: Jerwood Arts | Poetry in Performance Award, and is developing her project, 'Queer Brown Skin'. Herdebut poetry collection is being published by Verve in 2022 with the cover illustration by her husband and creative partner, Adrian Saredia-Brayley. Neelam reaches out to the daughters of immigrants; to mothers who stay; to girls who love girls; to girls who sing hurricanes away.
YouTube Channel: Neelam Saredia -Brayley: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChEtFdkrnJHS9PWHqOoAIBg Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NeelamSarediaBrayleyPoetry/
Twitter: @neelam_saredia https://twitter.com/neelam_saredia
Adrian is a comic book artist, book illustrator and character designer living in Kent. He also collaborates with his wife and creative partner, Neelam Saredia-Brayley, to create live illustrated poetry performances that he thinks are really, very good. Adrian likes to create inclusive, diverse, kind, queer, unique and feminist work that is just a little bit melancholy and surreal. Currently he's working on writing and drawing his Arts Council England funded debut queer, sci-fi comic, Norm due for release sometime in the (hopefully not-too-distant) future.