‘Umbilical Cord’ art activists host shop forum in centre of Cambridge
A new activist gallery and event space opens on St Andrew’s Street tomorrow (January 6), featuring work and workshops which encourage visitors to re-evaluate their connections to each other and to the natural world.
Hosted by Cambridge artists and activists Cathy Dunbar and Jill Eastland, the ‘We Are All Connected’ gallery will host work by local activist artists, film shows, discussions, workshops, performances, creative writing, music and live art over the next three weeks.
The centrepiece is a work titled Umbilical Cord, a piece of textile work created by Jill and Cathy incorporating the work of 77 members of the public and other local artists. It is currently over 1km long.
“The cord was made in response to the COP26 global climate conference held in Glasgow earlier this year,” says Cathy. “It was part of the protest and rally organised by Cambridge COP26 Coalition held in Cambridge on November 6, alongside over 100 other protests across the UK and
“In the [shop] space the creativity, discussions and relationships built in the Cambridge community in the run-up to and during COP26 will be able to continue.”
Umbilical Cord will be on display for the duration of the exhibition.
“Most of the contributors haven’t seen it all stretched out,” adds Cathy, who last year organised the ‘Threads of Survival’ quilt for NHS fair pay. “It’s made of found objects, wool, various bits of clothes, all recycled things... It’s about how as a species we’re connected to each other and to the planet and all the creatures on it. It’s about social justice – how what we do here affects people somewhere else.
“If somebody’s island is going underwater we are connected to that – we’re trying to get people to think about that. Hopefully we’ll raise discussions with people, and social justice about racism and how we view it, how we don’t recognise it enough – as white people we too often don’t realise how deep it is and where it comes from. We can change it all, we just have to have a different mindset about the world and how we see ourselves in it.
“It’s by prioritising principals such as cooperation and sharing that we will achieve the system change that we so desperately need for climate and social justice. We cannot sort one out without sorting out the other.”
Events to be hosted at the shop at 8 St Andrew’s Street include a poetry session with Indian poet Sudeep Sen tomorrow (January 6), which will be livestreamed on the We Are All Connected Facebook page. An open mic event is planned for Friday (January 7): entrance is free, and viewers can sign a visitor book. Workshops will include a session on “decolonialising the University”.
“We have a group looking at all the University’s library books, and what to do about the Rustat memorial,” notes Cathy. “Not to take them out but just acknowledging that they are there and to consider what to do about it.”
The art activist team is funded by donations.
“People can contribute if they want,” says Cathy, “especially towards the electricity bill – the lights all come on at once!”
The premises at 8 St Andrew’s Street was occupied by Hays Travel who withdrew during lockdown. The site is owned by three University of Cambridge colleges – Emmanuel, Christ’s and Jesus.
“The city council has helped out by paying estate agents’ bills, and the university has helped out with rates,” notes Cathy. “It’s great to be right in the middle of town.
“We’re open from 11am to 5pm Monday to Saturday until January 22. We will develop what we’re over the three weeks, so people can see how we’re connecting and what changes we’re making.”