Alopecia, art and activism – Kitt’s story

I often ask women to share their stories on my blog. I think this one is one of the most unusual. I take from it that we should all be more like children in responding to life’s challenges and that if women use their heads, the world can change for the better. See what you think and let’s celebrate art wherever we find it.

“I’m Kitt. I live in Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK. I’m a mum of two super little humans (Finn and Ada, 6 and 3) and an artist. I guess this story combines these two aspects of my life in a roundabout, but quite lovely way.

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The last three years have been a very stressful time for our family and in January last year my hair stared to fall out. I went to the GP and by April was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata (patchy baldness). I was sad, but definitely felt there were things I would be much sadder and more inconvenienced by losing. The evening after my diagnosis, I had a little cry and shaved my hair. That night my husband and our children decorated my head with sticky jewels to cheer me up. I posted a photo on Facebook and was met with some beautiful, hopeful and unexpected responses.

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People with experiences of Alopecia (their own / friends / family) got in touch to share information and to tell me what it was like for them. I felt privileged that people were comfortable to share their stores with me, but shocked by how awful some experiences had been- most people had in common a huge loss of self-confidence and, alongside that, many had to deal with reactions from other people that ranged from confused to cruel. Relationships often suffered or even broke down and their general health (mental and physical) frequently declined.

Alopecia, Art And Activism

The majority of people who shared their stories with me where women. Some told me that they felt their hair was a huge part of their identity as a women and when it was gone they didn’t know who they were any more. Others said that they felt ugly, and even that people had told them they were ugly, without their hair, their “crowning glory”.  The more I thought about it the clearer it became- these effects are not due to the condition itslef, but come from negative reactions to a head that is bald, wigged or unusual. These effects can be completely eliminated, not by medical science, but by human kindness. People being kind to one another and to themselves. I wanted to do something to raise awareness of this element of the condition. And I wanted it to be fun and positive- an opportunity to celebrate different approaches to beauty, to gender, to heads!!

Being an artist, my automatic response was wanting to make some art. But where would I display it in order to reach people outside of my local art community / alopecia support groups? Then I thought about the children decorating my head with jewels and it all fell into place- I would create artworks on my bald head and wherever I went- on the bus, to the swimming pool, dropping the children at school, nights out- people would see them and I could have informal conversations about what I was doing and why. I started straight away, documenting the different pieces on social media, and very quickly people were offering to make artworks / head pieces / hats for me. One of my friends Michaela Wetherell (who is a curator) suggested creating a formal(ish) call out so people could submit art work to my head “gallery”. Then we developed the name (the “Plenty Up Top Gallery”) and put all the info, plus photos of previous work, on my artist website.

While all this had been happening Michaela and I, with another artist friend Aly Smith, had been setting up a local Nasty Women group (Nasty Women North East). Nasty Women is a global art and activism movement focussed on protecting women’s rights. It was started by an American artist, Roxanne Jackson, shortly after Donald Trump was elected as president of the USA and was named after his slur to Hilary Clinton during the presidential debates. The members of the movement organise art events to raise money for women’s and LGBTQ+ charities. Our group ran the first Nasty Women exhibition in the UK and went on to organise the first Nasty Women conference in the world. At the conference we met Roxanne and other Nasty Women from all over Europe and the UK. In January this year members of the movement started to discuss the possibility of setting up an Art prize to celebrate and support the artists who had donated work to fundraising exhibitions during 2017. Because the movement aims to fundraise for other organisations we prefer to run our own events as cost effectively as possible. So it was suggested that we use my head as the venue for the art prize as it’s free! (With the added bonus of dealing with ideas of gender in a pretty unusual way).

Now, three months later, the Nasty Women International Art Prize is in full swing. There is a judging panel of artists, gallery owners and journalists from around the world including Danielle Krysa, (Artist, and Writer behind the contemporary art site, The Jealous Curator, Canada), Miranda Larbi, Feminist writer and senior reporter at Metro UK , Betsy Greer, Writer, Maker and the “godmother of craftivism” (USA) and Airco Caravan (Artist and Nasty Women Amsterdam founder).

So it’s going to be a fun few months for me and my head! As director of the venue for the prize / wearer of the art I am chairing the panel, which is a huge, exciting, and slightly terrifying (in a good way!) honour. There are two exhibitions planned as part of the judging process the first is on June the 21st and will take place in various venues across the world, including my hometown Newcastle. The second and final exhibition will be Oct 4th-7th at the Creative Debuts, Anti Art Fair in London, a very fitting event for both the prize and for the “Plenty Up Top Gallery” as it celebrates artists who are traditionally underrepresented in the commercial art world- which includes female artists, artists of colour and artists from the LGBTQ+ community. During the Anti Art Fair I will “wear” artworks made by the three finalists and “crown” the winner of the Nasty Women International Art Prize, 2018. It’s funny and very lovely to think it all started almost exactly a year ago with my children trying to cheer me up by bling-ing my newly bald head.

The Nasty Women International Art Prize is open to anyone over 16- no need to be an artist or a woman! We welcome submissions from crafters, makers, yarn bombers, community groups…. The possibilities are endless. The submission deadline is April 30th 11pm GMT 2018, please see the website for further info: http://nastywomenexhibition.org/

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Sharing so openly takes a huge amount of courage so please do consider sharing this post by clicking one or more of the buttons below.

If you would like to share your story on this blog please get in touch.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Karen | TwoTinyHands April 20, 2018 / 7:10 am

    What genuinely great idea. I love how quickly you’ve taken nasty women from idea to international meet ups and beyond. Such a great movement. What an inspiration for people who need it. ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

  2. Jaki April 23, 2018 / 4:39 pm

    Love the gems and Kitt’s whole attitude towards it. Really inspiring. Thanks for joining in with #TriumphantTales, hope to see you back again tomorrow.

  3. Jeannette @autismmumma April 29, 2018 / 8:15 pm

    Kitt has a wonderful approach to something that at first is very dehabilitating and undermining to our confidence (I wrote this with experience of it).
    The gems are a wonderful “let’s embrace it” idea.
    Thanks for thinking up with #TheMMLinky

  4. Sarah May 2, 2018 / 10:09 pm

    What an amazing story! My Mum had breast cancer last year and when her hair started to fall out shaved it off, its now growing back but I can see her worry about negative reactions to her new hair which is such a shame as she looks amazing! Your gems are amazing. Thanks for linking to #thursdayteam

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