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Photography students help bring ‘joy’ to Sunderland

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Published on 15 March 2022

 Celia Medina Marchante and Pav Gajek with Vinca Petersen
Celia Medina Marchante and Pav Gajek with Vinca Petersen

Internationally renowned photographer, installation, multimedia and performance artist Vinca Petersen has brought her latest exhibition Make Social Honey – A Collective Search for Joy to the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA).

The free exhibition is an archive of Vinca’s own “monumental” image collection, including new images and videos by University of Sunderland students – Celia Medina Marchante and Pav Gajek. 

From wild swimming to meditation and choir singing, the third-year Photography, Video and Digital Imaging students captured different community groups across Sunderland exploring what brings them joy.

Celia, 23, from Spain, said: “After two difficult and lonely years, it is good to see people coming together as a community to find joy engaging in creative and fun activities. 

“I hope people seeing the images will be motivated to participate more within community groups and enjoy life.”

Celia added: “As a final year student this is a good chance to make connections and share my work with more people and this would not be possible without the support from the gallery and of course without Vinca”

“It is an honour to have my work exhibited on the walls of the NGCA.”

Pav, 26, who is originally from Poland but has lived in the UK since the age of 11, said: “I'm so overwhelmed by such an opportunity. 

“I'm so thankful to Vinca and everybody else involved for allowing me take part in such a great and meaningful project. 

“I think collectively we should share the joy of creation and pass it onto other people, which in turn might make them happier. I hope this exhibition inspires people to share their joy with others.”

Vinca’s work emerges from a deep understanding and commitment to social and political engagement with underrepresented communities in order to give them a voice and recognition. 

For more than 30 years, she has created an important body of work that shines a light on Britain’s politically divided society through her unique position organising and documenting the emerging rave scene across Britain and Europe in the 1990s.

Make Social Honey asks us to consider where can joy be found, is joy a subversive act within our capitalist society, and how can we come together again after a long period of restrictions and social isolation.

Jon Weston, Curator at NGCA for Sunderland Culture, explained: “Vinca worked closely with several local community groups and organisations including Young Asian Voices, Wild Sea Women, Tracey West’s holistic health service Sacred Gongs, as well as artist Sinead Livingston, dementia-friendly arts group Creative Age and choirs from throughout the region.

“Through working with the groups, Vinca sought to explore what brings people joy in an increasingly isolated society, be it through sea swimming, meditation or singing.

“Vinca’s work comes from an understanding and commitment to social and political engagement with under-represented communities – seeking to give them a voice and a platform.”

Vinca, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, and now lives and works in Ramsgate, Kent, said: “A small part of me still misses the fun and freedom of those years spent caravanning through Europe as a member of the Rave counterculture. 

“But a greater part of me thinks similar experiences should be available without having to go to such extremes. If I distil what I wanted during that time, it's not so much about wild hedonism as a more basic human need: an experience of regular, collective joy.”

Johannah Churchill, Lecturer in Contemporary Photography at the University of Sunderland, said: “We couldn’t be prouder of Celia and Pav for working with their community and Vinca to create this beautiful community show. 

Make Social Honey at NGCA is so timely after the pandemic. It comes at a time when we are all feeling the after effect and through the generosity of Vinca Peterson and the space at NGCA we are able to allow some joy to wash over us.”

Vinca’s work has been shown in venues including the National Portrait Gallery, the V&A and the Saatchi Gallery.

Make Social Honey has been produced by Vinca, Sunderland-based theatre-maker and director Corinne Kilvington, and the team at NGCA and will be on display at the venue until May 2nd

The project is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and more information can be found here

Entry is free and NCGA is based in the National Glass Centre at the University’s St Peter’s Campus. 

The University of Sunderland is supporting MadeAtUni: Creative Sparks, a national campaign to showcase the creative talent produced by UK universities and encourage the Government to promote and support the importance of creativity and creative courses.