A ceramic artist trying to improve the world via mugs with a message: Laura Grainger (UK)

Laura Grainger is a ceramic artist from Bristol (UK), who makes poli-tea-cal mugs to bring awareness to the unjustness and inequality in the world. She reflects, among other things, on why she became a vegan, what is feminism for her and what are the issues of the world today. So, let’s be a little rebel and have a protest, right from our first brew of the day! 

Laura Grainger. Photo: Ryan Paul Waters

Laura, how do you define yourself? 

I’m Laura, and I use the pronouns she/her. I define myself as many things. An optometrist in the NHS [National Health Service — D the Vegan Feminist] and caregiver. A lecturer at University, so a teacher. A ceramic artist trying to improve the world via mugs with a message. I suppose I am a little bit of an armchair activist as I incorporate political messages into my work, but am not currently actively involved with any organisations. The last protest I attended was about the Brexit referendum. 

What is vegetarianism and veganism for you? 

I have been vegan for 4 years, and was vegetarian for 3 years before that. There were two poignant moments which made me first choose to go vegetarian and then finally vegan. I remember posting a video on Facebook about dolphins getting caught in fishnets, and one of my friends commented “what about the other fish” and it really hit home how I was counting the life of some fish more than others. Another friend had posted this movie (below) by Steve-O from Jackass as to why he had switched to be vegetarian and it changed my life! I thought if someone like Steve-O could do it, then so could I. 

What is feminism for you? 

Feminism for me is equality for all my cisters and sisters. But also equality for men. Realising that men have such a shit time having to hold in all their emotions and being strong all the time sucks.

I think feminism must also extend into looking after animals and not exploiting them too. I’m looking at the dairy industry!

Intersectional feminism has changed how I think about feminism. It really helps to stop looking to your own internal experiences of oppression and discrimination, and to be able to think about fighting for all oppression and discrimination. Feminism to me includes all genders, races and sexualities.

What types of social and political movements are important to you?

There is so much to say here! 

Black lives matter. Racism. Transphobia. Homophobia. Xenophobia. Sexism. Fascism. Ableism. Animal exploitation. 

I feel really frustrated about the shit show that the UK is now in under the conservative government. Not only are we going through this disastrous pandemic where people are losing their jobs and businesses, but people are secondly hit by Brexit and all the new rules and taxes.

As I say, lots to talk about here, but one thing which I feel very strongly about is the privatisation of the NHS as I have seen first hand effects on the hospital in which I work. Stripping of contracts from NHS hospitals and giving them to private groups, then noticing the differences in care given. Tory MP’s [Member of Parliament — D the Vegan Feminist] owning pharmaceutical companies, buying up smaller companies and then massively increasing the cost of drugs that they sell to the NHS to further bleed the NHS dry. It shouldn’t be legal! I wish people wouldn’t clap for key workers, and continue to vote for the Tory party.

How did you become a ceramist? 

I took up ceramics as an apology to my father who is also an artist. Many of his early works had been destroyed by my brothers and I when we were young and tearing around the house after each other. I had been interested in ceramics for many years, and my first lesson at the folk house in Bristol was a treat to myself having completed my masters dissertation. It was a good incentive to complete my writing! I found myself influenced by nature and the human form in the past. Since becoming a resident at the Clayshed ceramic studio in Bristol in March 2019 my style has definitely changed and I really enjoy decorating my mugs with words, expressions and phrases. My pottery often takes political banners from protests, and translates them on to mugs. The act of stamping the letters into the clay is really therapeutic which helps me to balance the stresses of working for a University and NHS Hospital. 

You are currently working on a series of political mugs. You say that you attempt to make the world a better place, one mug at a time. What do you think, what are the issues of the world today? 

Women (and all humans) are constantly bombarded with body image ideals. I love the saying “If tomorrow women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business”. One aspect I try to portray on my mugs is self acceptance and love in an attempt to empower the holder from the moment they have their morning brew.

I am no political expert. But there is so much polarity in the UK between people. You can often end up in a bubble, especially with social media feeding you all your friends’ posts with similar opinions, or living in a liberal city like Bristol. And then the Tories continue in power, and Brexit happens, and you can become disillusioned (note my comments on inertia below)! My aim with my mugs is to open up the floor for someone to ask the owner of the mug, what is their thought behind it. Sometimes my mugs are not to everyone’s taste, but again it is an opportunity for discussion. The only way we can move forward is if we try to empathise with people with differing life opinions. Shouting at people isn’t going to help to educate people to other ways of thinking. But having a chat over a healing cup of tea may help. 

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin, an Irish artist and writer, has said: “It is very difficult to define political art. Views on what makes art political can range from the idea that all art is political (i.e. it either implicitly supports or explicitly opposes the status quo) to pointing out, for example, the obviously political murals on walls around Belfast. As a way of narrowing the former and broadening the latter I suggest here a view of political art that uses three categories: Portrayal, Promotion, or Projection.” How would you comment on that? 

All art is political. As it is influenced by people living under political systems. 

Caoimhghin suggests that the portrayal catagory can “consolidate inertia, a feeling that nothing can be done to change the situation”, which is how I feel often at the moment, so I guess I sit more in the portrayal group. 

My art and pottery often takes political banners from protests and translates them on to mugs, so I guess my art falls into the “Promotion” category also.

What feminists, creative activists, artivists, etc would you say have influenced you the most, and why?

Grayson Perry has had a profound affect on my work. He is always challenging social inequalities via multiple mediums including ceramics. His work on male suicide had me crying at the Arnolfini in Bristol as it was so powerful. His book “Playing to the gallery” is a great read also.

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by powerful badass ladies in my friendship group. Check out Rose Thomas and Mia Bajina singing about the referendum here: https://www.facebook.com/560280618/videos/10154175502165619/ This really touches home how people feel about Brexit and made something good with all those feelings.

I have suffered, like most people, with my mental health. I took some workshops with Holly Stoppit. She is a facilitator, performance skills teacher, theatre director, activist, dramatherapist, and specialises in self development courses. She really is a unique individual and her courses have been great at conquering the inner critic and helped me to have confidence in finding my voice as an artist. Attending her introduction to clowning skills improved my self confidence two fold. Here is a link to her TEDxtalk:

I have found Alok v menon @alokvmenon a powerhouse of kindness to learn from. They are a gender non conforming writer and performance artist. The way they have dealt with having hair and being gender non conforming, and the hateful comments on social media has been wonderful to watch. #nothing wrong hair.

I follow @i_weigh by Jameela Jamil on Instagram. She is a feminist in progress who has a passion for radical inclusivity and mental health. She has really set my social media stream to be healthier and to help me become more accepting of myself and my body.

What are the main ways anyone can contribute to making the world a better place?

Be kind, don’t be a dick! Keep an open mind and keep educating yourself. 

What’s next up for you?

I am working on stocking my shop for an event “The great charity pot sale” @thegreatcharitypotsale on Instagram on the 30th of January 2021. I am selling mugs and the sales will go to @suicidepreventionbristol (Suicide Prevention Bristol). This is a community event where communities can help community and it has a special place in my heart.

Get inspired!

Website: www.lauragraingerceramics.co.uk


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