Old & New: Young art on old walls

Kate Asquith on the interplay of past and present at Somerville Arts

Somerville may be one of the newer colleges, but in its past 138 years, it’s had more than its fair share of cultural history. Hoping to explore this, the theme of Somerville Arts Festival 2017 is ‘Perspective’, aiming to illuminate the diversity of both our past and our present in ways that are new and exciting.

Many associate our namesake, Mary Somerville, with the sciences, as she was a pioneer in mathematics—but it is worth remembering that she was also an accomplished artist, and many of her landscapes and self-portraits hang proudly on display around the college. In order to honour our artistic heritage, Arts Fest intends to celebrate the talents of current students by finding inspiration in the past.

‘Views from the Ville’ is a new flash fiction initiative being launched to encourage writers to take on the perspective of someone connected with Somerville. This could be a porter, a student turned-war-nurse, a fresher, or even Margaret Thatcher. The extension of empathy is possibly one of the most powerful tools an artist can utilise, which makes our theme of ‘Perspective’ so important. Art can break down the boundaries that divide people—whether those erected through differences in gender, race, sexuality, or time. With this in mind, we’re welcoming back past students to share their experiences of the creative industry. Gillian Cross and Daisy Johnson are both published authors and will read short stories from their collections. This cross generational duo prove that literature can be a unifying force that transcends the separation of time. By exploring new perspectives, we’re giving voices to the unheard. Our visual art zine, named The Siren after the Somerville magazine which was last produced over a decade ago, is paying particular attention to the subversion of traditional narratives and the inclusion of minority perspectives.

In the same spirit, our open mic night encourages everyone to get involved and share their gifts, from music to spoken word and poetry. Fred, a second-year student, says “it’s really exciting to see how talented and creative the people around you are, especially when you aren’t always aware of that on a day-to-day basis”. Likewise, we’ve chosen special acts to showcase the variety and diversity of the university’s talent. Celebrating originality, The Oxford Belles’ a cappella performance embraces music without instruments, putting a fresh spin on old classics and reproducing them with a strong, feminist voice. Similarly, the improvised comedy of the Oxford Imps is wickedly genre-bending, while also embodying a joy for the arts that resonates with the spirit of the festival.

Related  Houghton Festival 2017 Review

‘Perspective’ is a wide-ranging and far reaching theme, chosen to allow as many people as possible to engage with not only the arts, but also the history of the arts and its untold stories. While we desire the expression of new and alternative points of view, we also hope to find some connection with the past that encompasses that elusive quality that makes Oxford Oxford, a shared sense of identity that exists despite the boundaries of time, through our art.