Scroll through Hannah Hill's Instagram feed and you'll find body positivity and delightful embroideries galore. The 22-year-old London-based artist has been developing a following through her artwork over the years, but it was her feminist Arthur embroidery, inspired by the all-too-relatable Twitter meme, that took the Internet by storm. As a woman of colour, Hill has decided to use her new-found viral fame to talk about the issues that matter to her. Most recently, she's spoken about her struggles with mental illness and she uses her art to raise discussions about police brutality and racial tensions post-Brexit.
We can't get enough of her lovely illustrations and embroidery. As an unstoppable artist and activist, Hannah is an inspiration to young female artists everywhere and we were so excited to chat with Hannah about memes, feminism, and life as an up-and-coming artist in the UK.
When did you first start making art?
My grandma's collection of things I've made for her from the past twenty years would suggest most of my life! I have always been imaginative and creative. My grandparents were architects, my mum enjoys knitting, sewing, and other crafts and her mum is skilled at garment making, so I have had different types of creativity around me from a young age. Long walks with my Grandpa around London when I was younger encouraged me to look at the world around me.
Your Arthur meme embroidery went viral after you posted the picture on Instagram, did you expect such a big, global reaction?
I kind of joked that I hope it goes viral, just because I was so chuffed with how it turned out, but I had no idea what that really meant until I woke up the next morning to 35k retweets and that just kept going up on every platform over the next few days. The response it got was incredible, and I'm so glad it was a sort of catalyst for many publications to write about how textiles have been sidelined in art history.
Why did you start embroidering?
I started embroidering when I was about 17 at college. I instantly loved it which was really validating because I didn't have any confidence with drawing, painting or sculpture. Then the more I got into feminism and learnt about the history of embroidery it all made sense that I use my favourite medium to make work about social issues important to me.
For you, what does it mean to bring feminism with art, from drawing to more craft-based mediums like embroidery? What’s it like, navigating the art world as a woman today?
My art's meaning is one of the most important things for me. For me to be able to use my creativity and voice to explore issues I care about as well as parts of my identity is something I value highly. I'm not sure how I fit into the whole art world as there are parts which I do not like such as its history of exclusion and elitism, but I hope I am able to carve out my own part which is principled on inclusivity, social issues, community and ethics. I don't fit into the corporate side of the art world that's for sure, but I don't want to. I want to be a part of the art world but also critique its many flaws, while hopefully changing the future for artists. I love following fellow feminist artists and seeing them create amazing work, that inspires me.
You’ve recently been posting images from other clothing companies like Urban Outfitters that have copied and essentially ripped off your designs? What’s that experience like, clicking on a company’s page and seeing your own work on there without your permission?
It really sucks. Usually, it's people who follow me that message me to tell me about these cases. It's something so many independent artists and makers deal with. I just realised that the reason it doesn't bother me as much anymore is because my work that is copied are usually patches from years ago and I feel like I've moved in a totally different direction as an artist since then. They're still my property though so it is frustrating when big companies think they can get away with stealing. I try to utilise social media when this happens because thankfully people are equally as outraged and call the brands out which saves me a lot of energy and worry. It's also great to feel supported in this situation.
Internet memes are funny, we all love sharing them, but do you think that memes have the power to send a more serious message?
Totally! That's what's so great about memes, they can be simple and funny or deep. Brexit was a really hard time to deal with the uncertainty and stupidity surrounding it, and memes definitely helped take some of the edge off the misery going on at the time. Even depressing, political memes can bring you comfort or a laugh about the situation.
Some of your pieces have dealt with Grime music and you’ve talked about Grime on your Instagram. Who are some of your current Grime favourites?
Grime artists I love are Skepta, Frisco, D Double E, Novelist, AJ Tracey, P. Money, Flowdan, NoLay, jeez there's so much talent it's hard to not list everyone!
If you could collaborate with a Grime artist, who would it be?
The way things have been coming together for me, I wouldn't be surprised if there were to be some Hanecdote/Grime collaborations in the near future….
In one of your most recent Youtube videos, you talk about your experience living with mental illness? How has art helped you through those rougher moments? What advice would you have for someone who might be going through similar experiences of depression?
I've had a rollercoaster relationship with art and dealing with mental illness. When you're so depressed and have no self-worth, it's hard to feel good about anything you make. Saying that, anytime I was hospitalised I always made the most of the drawing/art facilities they had, and when I was in a short term unit I created an alter ego of some kind, called Superhan, which helped me to see the good in myself. Around this time I was also using drawing to express the dark side of what I was feeling, its hard to look back at those, I feel so much sadness for how 14-year-old me felt. In the past few months I have really enjoyed practising drawing, unlike ever before and seeing gradual improvements has been beneficial to my confidence of my skills. So I’d recommend practising whatever medium it is that you enjoy, test out loads of mediums if you're not sure, you don't have to share work unless you want to so make it just for yourself with as little pressure as possible. Keep trying.
As a woman of colour living in the UK, how do you feel about the current state of politics and society there?
Scary. I am privileged in a lot of ways, one being my race is ambiguous so it's hard for me to be stereotyped. I try to understand the concerns of many other people of colour who have to deal with outright sexism, xenophobia and racism and use my platform to uplift those experiences and voices. Growing up in London I have been blessed to know many different people of so many different races and that has shaped me into a caring accepting person. After the results of Brexit, it was obvious that we were living in a bubble, and the rest of the country voted Leave. Not everyone that voted Leave is racist, but the media and politicians manipulated people across the UK into thinking immigration was single-handedly to blame for the failing NHS and other services. The surge of racist and xenophobic attacks since the vote shows that this gave people a sense of entitlement about what is and isn't British. Immigrants helped shape this country and deserve respect and humanity.
You’ve also done some work with Tate Collectives. What has that experience been like?
I woke at Tate Collectives which is an amazing young people's group aged 15-25 at Tate which puts on events to encourage young people, especially ethnic minorities to enjoy the public art collection. We aim for our events to reflect the diversity of London, putting together DJs, spoken word artists, MCs, workshops and vibes to welcome a wider audience into Tate. This work is so rewarding for me because I love art so much, but I also understand that many people feel alienated and excluded from it, so to have the chance to change people's experiences with a gallery is incredible.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges young artists face today? how have you personally trying to overcome these issues?
I guess a big problem would be dealing with plagiarism which can be so discouraging and demoralising for a young artist to deal with, especially alone and without the finances to take legal action. For me and many young people in London, living here seems unlikely but I'm grateful that I can live at home and study/work with the support of my family. Cuts are happening from creative subjects which will only discourage young people from exploring vocational forms of studying and further pursuing art.
Where do you hope to take your art in the future? Do you have any products or piece currently in the works?
My only hopes and plans for the future as of now is to have a solo exhibition after I graduate and to do an internship at Tate to gain further knowledge. I've been working on a Grime/London inspired piece for while now which I really want to finish because I think it's going to look great, but I'm also excited to start on a new piece. I have been working with similar motifs and themes, and I want to research textiles in a historical context to create a narrative combining all my ideas, interests and imagery. I'm excited for new work!
You can follow Hannah on Instagram and Twitter.
Photos via Hanecdote
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