June 2, 2020


Traces of red and black are found among the green, the colours forming a twisted-looking creature half-hidden amongst the weeds.

One follows its eyes and encounters a severed head hanging from a washing line, softly dangling in the wind. A small fleet of boats swimming in the sun. A concertina book is laid out on a red picnic blanket while small artist’s books are displayed on a nearby table.

Letting the eye wander along the multitude of colours and textures the viewer enters the first Illustration Exhibition at Mackintosh Place, curated by three Cardiff Met Illustration students – Vicky Yang Xinyuan, Chloë Savi and myself.

Born out of an urge to make the most of the lockdown as well as our time together, on(the)line is the result of a year-long exploration and a response to its current context.

Three flatmates, three projects – needless to say that the three of us work in a variety of different techniques, and that we have all explored a far-reaching range of themes in our work. From half-hearted queens questioning the humanity of their own brother and linguistic differences in visual idioms, to dualities present in liminal landscapes and cultural journeys across in-between spaces.

The outcomes are just as diverse: a card game, a newspaper, a collection of artist’s books, a concertina book, a storybook. Nevertheless, these illustrations display both a visual and a thematic consistency, which is why we decided to have a group exhibition.

Themes around culture and identity are reflected in journeys and migrations, while wicked treason and noble honour find their place in notions of truth.

Similarly, the illustrative process is enriched by imagination, reportage, research-led projects and observational drawings. Covering a wide spectrum of what illustration can do, the work not only visually communicates ideas and thoughts but documents the current times, serving as a testimony for its creativity.

Not necessarily found in museums, illustration often sits in the most humble of places – a school library, a tube station, a bench in the park, or, in this instance, a backyard, its messages carried across into the digital space.

Making the most of what our surrounding environment has to offer, the exhibition was an exciting opportunity to visualise what we have achieved during the year.

Under the early morning sun and the fickle wind we found and used all materials available, including the washing line stripped clear of clothes a couple of hours ago. As the shadows turned we built our exhibition, showcasing not only our final pieces but also our development work and research materials.

The response was beautiful. Photographs and rumours of our one-day-long exhibition spread all over social media and we are grateful for the amount of delighted comments and touching feedback we’ve received, including from tutors, friends and professionals from the field.

The Degree Show is the culmination of a year’s work. Our sadness and disappointment is combined with a sometimes frankly devastating feeling of loss – loss of such a substantial part of our degree, of the last months together with people who during university have become a second family.

And, along all of these, there’s the knowledge slowly sinking in that this period marks an end and a beginning. We’ve lost the world we were living in and, on top of facing the expected uncertainty which comes after finishing a degree, there’s a new uncertainty we’re dealing with together. As the world tries to restart, we consider ourselves incredibly lucky.

The garden exhibition was not a replacement for the Degree Show, though it did fill up a missing gap in our degree. It was above all a celebration, as well as a way to find closure.

Creatives have an immense power to make something worthwhile out of a limited amount of resources with passion and authenticity. And so we will carry on creating.

Check out more work from Maria, Vicky and Chloë at their websites: