by Hannah Green
The patch of disused land on Cherry Lane, sandwiched between student accommodation and shopfronts down an alley in central Bristol, is fenced off now.
For years, the land lay untouched, filled only with straggling saplings and dusty rubble, the crunch of needles audible underfoot.
It was in this unassuming venue that Bristol-based arts collective SHiiKu chose to host their first open-air art exhibition, 'Clean Your Wounds’, last summer.
Spending days working together to clean out the neglected lot, the collective presented an eclectic mix of paintings, textile art, video projections, live music, spoken word poetry and projection mapping video art.
Encouraged by the open, accessible space as well as social distancing measures and hand sanitizer, members of the public felt comfortable engaging with the event - some even braving the mic to share their own poems.
After the success of ‘Clean Your Wounds’, SHiiKu hosted another open air exhibition, ‘PANIC’, organised just days before the government’s ‘rule of six’ was reinforced in early September.
It was a last-ditch attempt to bring art to the masses before yet another period of isolation - not that the restrictions hampered the collective’s creativity: beginning in late 2020 they have been hosting a series of online poetry workshops open to all.
Working with themes such as ‘toes’, ‘bums’ and ‘eyeballs’ participants respond to lighthearted prompts in timed writing exercises, revealing a range of styles and voices.
As the warmer weather arrived and restrictions eased, SHiiKu were able to present ‘Release’, another exhibition celebrating their diverse range of talents and encouraging passers by to enter their friendly, dynamic world.
After finding that the site of their previous exhibitions had been fenced off, the collective moved to an open area of Redcliffe Wharf, near Bristol’s harbourside.
Mo, a poet, textile artist and one of SHiiKu’s founding members, said that it was great to see such a large amount of interest from the public this time around.
The space itself was much more exposed, lending itself to accessibility - whereas previously many attendees had learnt about events through word of mouth, this time casual passers-by were drawn in by the spectacle.
"You could see that people walking by were captivated," Mo tells me. "With SHiiKu, we want to encourage and give a space to everyone, with no restrictions or requirements of experience - some of the members have an art degree, others are musicians and poets."
"It’s the opposite of exclusive. We’re all doing it because we really like creating but it’s also very relaxed and open - we’re serious about art, but we’re not taking it too seriously."
Although their first exhibition space may have been fenced off by an overzealous council or a developer who would rather see an empty lot than a community art venue, SHiiKu shows no signs of slowing down, with more workshops in the pipeline and a film screening at Bristol bar Strangebrew on the 29th of June.