Yara El-Sherbini and Davina Drummond are YARA + DAVINA – pioneering British social practice artists, creating art with a focus on engagement and participation.
Using formats from within popular culture YARA + DAVINA make accessible and playful works. Their issue based work is site specific and responds to different contexts, from geo-politics to lessons on love, to knowledge production or mental health. Using formats such as jokes to mini golf and choirs and tattoo parlours, they root their works in the everyday, using a lightness of touch and humour to make works that are both poetic and universal.
While they both have established independent practices, they recently started collaborating and have created artworks for Tate Modern and Tate Britain, Venice Biennale, Manchester Art Gallery, Baltic, IKON, National Portrait Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, Delfina Foundation, INIVA, Somerset House, and many more.
WIA: What are you doing today?
YARA + DAVINA: As an artistic duo, today between us we worked with the fabricators on the build of Arrivals + Departures: an interactive artwork about life and death, that opens shortly at Somerset House. We planned six workshops, spoke to ten different people, tweaked one website, finished a newsletter, worked on a proposal. We ran a workshop with an amazing group of West London Deaf Women for a huge National Trust project on Football and Craft called Kick Off. On top of this, one of us prepared a talk for WOW festival, and set up some meetings for next month. Alongside this, we are both mothers to two young girls. Oh and one of us visited a Death Cafe for research. All in a day’s work. Every single day is packed with intense work, but we love almost every minute of it.
WIA: Tell us about your creative process.
Y + D: Every single day we speak multiple times and leave VM’s on WhatsApp to each other. We ping pong ideas, challenge each other, research, think and create and very occasionally disagree. We both bring very different things to the table, different ways of working and thinking and inspire each other’s ideas to be stronger and better.
WIA: Describe where you do most of your creative work.
Y + D: We both do much of our work at home, one of us in our kitchen and one in our studio box room.
Davina is London based so does much more practical meetings, while I do more of the writing and planning.
WIA: What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
Y + D: Two of our current projects blow our minds! We are so excited that they are both actually finally happening that we have to pinch ourselves sometimes to check its real and not a collective dream.
The first project is Arrivals + Departures, which is literally about arrivals (births) and departures ( deaths). It is deeply profound yet totally accessible and light too. We have been working on this for over four years and it is opening at Somerset House this April, and then touring the UK in 2020. We have exciting plans for this work in 2021. For us it’s an incredibly innovative and unusual approach that we, as social practice artists, have made a large scale interactive public sculpture of two analogue arrival boards. These have a public programme of integral events embedded, so members of the public can submit names of people who have been born and died. The public are invited to take part and engage in so many accessible and different ways, such as birth and death cafes, death euphemism bingo, last song singalongs, grief network events, talks on digital birth and digital death and end of life planning.
Alongside this we are in the midst of a fantastic project on football, craft and feminism called Kick Off. We are working with incredible women and have two live matches at National Trust Sites in July with the teams. What is exciting, is bringing football culture into the National Trust and widening it’s reach and place within contemporary society. In London, we are working with Deaf Women Ealing, which has been an incredible journey for us to think about what it means as a woman to be heard!
WIA: What made you decide to become an artist?
Y + D: Since we were both young we both knew we wanted to be artists. It was in our beings, it was part of us. In fact, we believe it’s not a matter of wanting to become an artist but wanting to ‘remain an artist’ as all children are born creative and inquisitive and slowly, often through uncreative schooling, they lose it.
If we break it down to the basics we both had a strong urge and still do with all our being to create meaning and most importantly to find ways to ask questions about how we as society live our lives today.
WIA: What are you currently working on?
Y + D: We mentioned above our two large scale current projects – Arrivals + Departures and Kick Off. We are also the main Bloomsbury Festival art commission for 2020 and are working on an exciting idea for Oct 2020, on the theme of Vision.
We are also in conversation to further develop two blends of community tea with Heart Of Glass in St Helens and a community group that we have been working with in Clockface, St Helens.
WIA: Do you listen to music while you work, and if so, what’s your soundtrack?
Y + D: No. Our work requires a lot of thinking, writing and phone meetings and we both work best to silence (and need a little as we both have young children so a noisy home environment!)
WIA: What are the key themes in your work?
Y + D: We don’t have key themes as our work is site and context responsive, but we do use key ideas. These are accessibility; the use of popular culture as a way to make work engaging, playful and light hearted. All our work is based on meaning making, but also having fun.
WIA: What would you like people to notice in your work?
Y + D: A sense of playfulness, clarity, and meaning. We put people at the heart of our work, so this focus on the social is important.
WIA: What attracts you to the mediums you work in?
Y + D: We work in so many different mediums that it is always fun. From choirs, to mini golf, patches, joke machines, to creating tea, and now football scarves, chants and regional pies, it is literally endless fun and inspiration. Every time we do a new project we learn new skills and expertise and background stories of the medium we are working with. We are working on some incredible ideas for 2021 also.
WIA: What equipment could you not do without?
Y + D: The internet, as we use it daily to communicate.
WIA: Who or what inspires you?
Y + D: Each other.
WIA: How does gender affect your work?
Y + D: This is a super interesting question. For us, we haven’t so much thought directly about how gender in general has impacted us but how gender as a parent has.
If we just look at the statistics we can see how gender impacts mothers. For example globally 75% of unpaid work and on average 61% of housework is done by women. In the UK 42% of women compared to 11% of men work part time and a large reason for all of this is childcare and the expectations still that the mother takes the bulk.
We as artist mothers have definitely felt that – in part of course because as artists we don’t earn as much as our male partners do (having ‘proper jobs”) but it’s more than that – its a deep systemic expectation that the mother does more full stop.
This is something we all need to talk openly about to make a positive change going forward and wonderful researchers like Caroline Criado Perez are beginning to do this. But we all need to engage in the conversation whether you are a mother or not.
WIA: What’s your favourite gallery, or place to see or experience art?
Y + D: To be honest, what we like the best is when we experience art outside of an ‘art context’. Somewhere unexpected like a shopping centre, hospital or train station.
WIA: If you could own one piece of art, what would it be and why?
Y + D: Davina is a big Sophie Calle fan and she almost bought Calle’s limited edition she made for her Whitechapel show Talking to Strangers in 2010 but it didn’t happen for various practical reasons and she deeply regrets it. Yara is kicking herself that she didn’t buy a Katie Paterson vinyl work she loved years ago. When you adore an artist’s work so much its a very special thing to have a piece of their work in your home.
WIA: If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be, and why?
Y + D: There are so many amazing artists we’d love to have the chance to work with but if we had to choose one it would be Emily Jacir.
WIA: Is there an artist, movement or collective you’d like to see re-evaluated, or a contemporary artist who is underrated?
Y + D: If you’d asked us a couple of years ago we would have said social practice art as a movement but thankfully there has been some real solid recognition of this way of working lately, in particular in the UK and USA. It’s still not an everyday term but art institutions are at the very least beginning to take it seriously and programme some profound and powerful works.
However, in truth almost all social practice artists are of course still undervalued and underrated. The genre is not seen yet as 100% equal to more object based works. We have to strive ten times harder to have our work seen as equal as high art that is, for example, work hung on a wall.
WIA: What’s your favourite colour
Y + D: Green
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