Big, outdoors and part of the city

Simone Richardson meets local graffiti artist VanJimmer and views her latest and totally topical work

graffiti artist with images of MLK and Malcolm X
VanJimmer with her latest work

Graffiti speaks from the heart within and is tagged out as those who do it want to remain anonymous, known only for their talent and skill.

So we’ll stick with local artist VanJimmer’s chosen tag. A South Londoner, born-and-bred, she lives near Brixton and has Malaysian and Scottish heritage.

Her creation in the “Banksy Tunnel” (Leake Street) in Waterloo is well worth worth a visit, especially as it is bang on for Windrush Day with amazing portrayals of Malcom X and Martin Luther King – it is as if you are standing opposite them.

“I painted Martin Luther King and Malcom X because I wanted to share a piece of solidarity, reflect unity and empowerment for the community,” she says.

“When we feel overwhelmed or powerless as individuals, these figures remind us that one of the simplest actions we can take is education, return to powerful figures in history that paved the way for future generations, to academics, revolutionaries and political activists for knowledge and understanding.’’

Aside from doing art as a subject in school, VanJimmer has not studied it at college or uni. So why graffiti?

“I was trying to break out of a creative block I’d had for about a decade,” she says. “The public nature of graffiti, the physicality and expense, means you can’t make any excuses not to paint, there’s no turning back once you’ve stepped out your door.

“I also love the freedom of being big, outdoors, interacting with and feeling a part of the city.’’

Wearing a mask, as we all have to do now on buses and in busy places, is a regular thing for graffiti artists, so it is not something that matters to VanJimmer.

“I don’t find it strange to see that people wear the same masks. We gotta do what we gotta do.

“I don’t enjoy wearing my mask because it’s a big plastic thing suctioned to your face, but I’m grateful it does what it can to protect my lungs from the fumes.’’

graffiti artist with images of MLK and Malcolm X

After studying linguistics at Edinburgh University and a job as a natural therapist, VanJimmer explains what has happened to her life in lockdown.

“I’ve moved away from conventional massage and work more with soldiers, oncology, surgical scars, chronic issues …

“My work’s led to me to be very interested in the complex and inextricable link between trauma and the health of the body.

“Of course, working mainly with vulnerable populations, as long as there is coronavirus my work is not looking good. So I’ve been looking to pursue art as an alternative avenue and return to body work when it’s more appropriate.’’

She says: “I wish for people to not get lost in the chaos – in the news, feelings of fear and confusion are part and parcel of a system that keeps individuals disempowered – but to look to opportunity and positive focus by amplifying community support, love, unity, courage, self-empowerment. We need to nourish the roots of the tree.

“There is no quick fix to these issues, but we can start with ourselves, in that sense we all have a part to play we all have the power to support change.’’

If there is anyone out there who could use some of her powerful art to support change – or for any other reason – contact: vanjimmer@hotmail.com

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