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Emma Mayoux-Andrews’ award-winning artwork charts story of city’s homeless people

Winner of the inaugural Cambridge Independent Award at last year’s Cambridge Invitational Art Contest, artist Emma Mayoux-Andrews drew plaudits for her imaginative creation, I Feel Safe.

I Feel Safe is a wooden ‘book of doors’ created in collaboration with 10 different homeless people in Cambridge.

Emma Mayoux-Andrews with her award-winning artwork, I Feel Safe. Picture: Keith Heppell
Emma Mayoux-Andrews with her award-winning artwork, I Feel Safe. Picture: Keith Heppell

Each ‘door’ features a portrait of that particular person’s front door lock, and a handwritten statement about what makes them feel safe.

I met up with Emma, who was born and raised in Cambridge and now divides her time between Cambridge and Littleport, at the Thrive Café on Norfolk Street.

She informs me that a hardback version of I Feel Safe, which explores where the participants are 10 years on, is available to buy at Thrive and at Habis on Main Street in Littleport. Thrive also hosts exhibitions upstairs.

“Growing up I’d always loved art and science equally,” says Emma, who did a foundation art diploma at Cambridge Regional College. “The plan was to become a scientist by day and an artist by night.

“Unfortunately, I had depression as a teenager and that affected my attendance. I could make art about what I was going through, but it didn’t make for very good science.

“So the way things turned out, I was actually a graphic designer by day and then studied health sciences with the Open University by night.

“That was for a few years and then after my MSc at UCL, I got my first job as a scientist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.”

Emma was working as a senior research associate at Xap Therapeutics, which is based at the Babraham Research Campus, and was specialising in cell line development, but had to step away late last year due to cardiac issues.

Explaining the thinking behind I Feel Safe, she says: “I wanted to give people a platform to express themselves and to be really human, but without compromising their privacy or defining their identity by their experiences.”

Emma, a former pupil at Hills Road Sixth Form College, continues: “I grew up in Cambridge but I moved to Oxford for art university in 2010.

“I was visiting friends back in Cambridge who were living in homeless hostels, and I was reflecting on how important it is to have a front door and how much you can take it for granted.

“So that’s where the photography of the locks and their front doors came from, as a form of portraiture – it’s almost like a talisman of control.

“I was wondering what made them feel safe, so I invited them to write what makes them feel safe... there’s something uniquely human about handwriting.

“We’re the only species that does it and it’s unique to each of us, but also completely anonymous, like a fingerprint – you can’t figure out who wrote this just by looking at it unless you know them well, and so it’s a really nice way of publicly sharing something personal.”

Emma is now looking to get into textile artwork – “particularly using sustainable and reusable materials” – and at present is busy promoting the hardback version of I Feel Safe, which finds out what the 10 homeless people who contributed in 2013 are up to in 2023.

“Some people are doing really well, they’re living happy full lives. Some people are just about hanging on, maintaining a good life but struggling with the current cost-of-living crisis and things like that,” she says.

“Then others are still homeless, or are in prison, or have passed away. So the original book really is precious to me now.”

Emma is using the book to launch upcoming talks about how best to support homeless people.

“We’ve organised for two talks, hopefully including discussions with representatives from the council about what the strategy for supporting our homeless people is going forward,” she says.

“But also service-users, local people, to really talk through what we can do as a society to better improve outcomes.

“For example, one clear factor that came through from the book is the impact of mental health, which affected all contributors to the book.

“One discussion point will be how to improve services for young people, perhaps by providing more support for the great work being done locally by charities such as Centre 33.

“One talk will be at La Strega in Littleport on Saturday, 2 March, at 3pm, and the second will be here at Thrive on Sunday, 3, at the same time – 3pm.”

The fourth Cambridge Invitational Art Contest, supported by the Cambridge Independent, celebrated the original work and talent of 12 artists.

Organised by The Galeria Moderna art gallery in the Grand Arcade, the winners were revealed at a private view and awards evening on 17 December.

The other winners were Dinah Case, Elizabeth Hay Brown, Elizabeth Cooke, Carol Whitehouse, Theofilos Seintis, Simona Ivanova Nedeva, Egle Stabuzyte-Brazdzioniene, Sam Kelly, Susan Law, Troy Stuart and Julia Fernández Rebollo.

For more on Galeria Moderna, visit galeria-moderna.com. For more on the other venues mentioned, go to thrivecambridge.com, habis.co.uk and lastrega.uk.

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