In An English Country Garden (Finder’s Keeper’s).

Like my last post, this serves as a transcript to the video I posted presenting this work, for those that prefer to read. I include the video at the end of this post.

I’m going to take you on a journey to ancient Egypt so stick around if that interests you.

The story goes that in 1888 an Egyptian farmer digging at Beni Hassan in Egypt, about 100 miles from Cairo, found what was described as a ‘seam of cats’. By some accounts he fell into a hole, into which eventually some 2-300,000 cats had been packed. A contemporary account is as follows:

“the plundering of the cemetery was a sight to see but one had to stand well windward. The village children came from day-to-day providing themselves with the most attractive mummies they could find. They took them down the riverbank to sell for the smallest coin to passing travelers. The path became strewn with mummy cloth and bits of cat skulls and bones and fur in horrid positions, and the wind blew the fragments about and carried the stink afar.”

The vast majority of these remains were eventually sold by weight and in 1890 a shipment reached Liverpool where they were sold at auction for £3, 13 shillings and 9 pence per tonne, ground up and spread on English fields as fertilizer. In a questionable attempt at humour, the auctioneer used a Beni Hassan cat skull as his auction hammer.

So there’s a lot to unpack here!

First of all to give some historical context about the cats themselves. Beni Hassan was one of many ancient Egyptian cemetery sites, and the reason for the vast quantity of cat mummies is that, as you probably know, cats were considered in possession of a divine energy, and the Goddess Bastet was an important deity until the rise of Christianity. Cats were one of several animals routinely sacrificed by pilgrims to the Gods for divine blessings, in fact at the Bubastis Temple to Bastet there is a 5th century BC account from Herodotus describing an annual festival there attended by several thousand pilgrims. The pilgrim would pay the priest to sacrifice the cat, mummify it, and place it in the catacomb as a way of obtaining good standing. Later Bastet became associated with Isis, who’s obviously a very significant Goddess, and it’s during this time that it’s believed cats were systematically bred to be killed and mummified as sacrifices to the Gods. Killing a cat in ‘normal’ circumstances, however was still considered a heinous crime, and there are accounts of outraged Egyptians lynching occupying Romans for killing them.

I first heard that story a few years ago and it so perfectly for me represented the intersection of a lot of things that are currently in my work, to do with divinity of animals, beliefs around spirituality with animals, how we memorialise them, and then latterly it really spoke to something that’s becoming more and more important to me to critique in my work which is colonial attitudes. But I wasn’t adequately able until now to come up with an appropriate response.

I’m going to go through the layers of the depth of the meaning of this piece and what I’ve tried to include in it.  We cannot interpret ancient animal cults of ancient times within a framework of 21st century sensibilities and it’s not my intention to criticise another culture’s historical practices or attitudes. Rather it became very important to me to use this piece to turn the lens more on Britain’s Imperial practices both in history and today.

The first aim for me was to use this piece to memorialize the cat and cats themselves, the lives of these animals used as sacrificial objects and the subsequent treatment of their remains as actual shit used on a field in England thousands of miles away from where they’re from. If you’ve been following this piece on instagram, you might have seen a post a while back that I did where I took the flowers and did a mini performance of laying them on the grave around the body of the cat, and I wrote a poem which I’ll include here.

You were a prayer
A promise
A god
Exalted
A life
A victim.

You are dust
Low
Theft
Wealth
Far from home
Interrupted
Awakened
And trodden

I remember you.

The intersection of divine and sacred with memorialising animals is something that’s very central to my work so my gut response when I heard the story was quite complex for me to unpick those different levels.

Egypt was occupied by Britain at the time this took place and Egypt and the artistic style was very fashionable in Victorian Britain. The British Empire was extremely powerful and wealthy globally.

One aim of this piece is to present a wider critique of African treasure stolen and looted by colonial forces. In this piece I’ve used the golden collar and the rings to symbolise the material wealth stolen from colonized land, where the cat is symbolising the spiritual cost. The collar and the rings are based on a statue of Bastet that I’ve seen in the British Museum several times, and a large part of the research around this piece became about repatriation of antiquities. I learnt that approximately 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage lies outside of the Continent.

So the question was raised for me – why is it that the argument defending keeping art and cultural artifacts outside of their culture of origin often rests on the assumption that more people are able to visit the ‘Great Museums’ of Europe or the United States. But why are those country’s institutions more visited and by whom?

I realise you may ask what this has to do with a dead ancient cat ground up for fertilizer but stay with me.

It’s relevant because the countries housing these diverse global collections largely are, or were, colonial powers, and their wealth and therefore power-over and ability to take and keep these items comes from oppressing and weakening these countries, either in the past or still today. 

As Britain grew wealthy by exploiting her colonies, greater personal wealth and therefore leisuretime for the new middle and upper classes was created. A highly popular pastime was needlepoint and cross stitch (also made possible because of the increased availability of cotton from plantations). I chose to include these cross stitch floral motifs as this cat’s grave offering to connect the dots of colonial wealth and the reference to the mummies being fertilizer – literally making rich England’s land. I imagine these flowers growing from the bodies of these prayers – which these animals were. 

During this era, flower language – the romantic Victorian practice of using flowers to send a message, individual flowers representing love or devotion or whatever – was hugely popular. I looked up some of these correspondences and chose these specific flowers with the following meanings.

Nasturtium which represents patriotism and conquest; 

Marigold for grief, despair and sacrifice;

Rose but specifically a dark rose represents death and yearning;

Sage which represents salvation and virtue;

Tansy for hostility and immortality.

Everything those flowers represent is what this piece is about for me.

What is it about for you?

We Will Suppress You.

We Will Suppress You.

I’ve started filming videos with my reflections and explanations of my pieces as I finish them, over on my instagram, which I’ll insert at the bottom of this post. I’m finding speaking about my work right after completion is more enjoyable for me and a good muscle to keep working. But for accessibility, I’m going to make the format of these posts into a sort of transcript, so people who can’t or don’t want to listen to the videos, can read all the same insights here. There’ll be a few amendments, to remove ums and errs, etc.

This is my personal visual response to the research that I did around iguana, specifically green iguana. This piece is about invasive species and more broadly, more deeply it’s about how we should apply discernment and critical thinking when we are listening to conservation stories, and always asking ‘who does this narrative serve? Who benefits from people believing this story?’

This is another piece that has come from my time in Costa Rica in January at the Art residency there. I knew I would see iguana, and there were lots of black iguana living on the house and in the drains, so I had a lot of opportunity to observe them (you can see some of that video if you want to, in my story highlights on instagram). In Costa Rica there’s the black iguana and also the green iguana, the two native species.

I love reptiles. As I get older I feel like I’m just really drawn to them. I love making them and had a lot of fun making this piece. I’m really pleased how it’s come out, I’m really happy with the way that it’s been realised.

I initially discovered that the green iguana is a protected and endangered species in Costa Rica however elsewhere in the Americas they are in fact an invasive species. Iguana as a genus are amongst the world’s most endangered animals. They face threats such as severe habitat degradation, threats from other invasive species – dogs, rats, pigs, mongoose; competition from livestock for food, human settlements etc. But the green iguana in Central America has been a traditional food source for over 7000 years. The traditional name translates to ‘the chicken of the trees’. So it’s got a very long history with the indigenous population of Central America, as well as in South America there are iguana gods in Peruvian Moche mythology.

I found out about a Dutch-run and lead conservation foundation in Costa Rica, where hunting iguana is now illegal and doing so by the local indigenous population is threatening the remaining endemic populations. Part of the work that the Foundation does is educating children to prevent that practice from continuing. I’m going to come back to that.

So endangered in its native home, and amongst the world’s most threatened animals as a genus. However in Florida is an example of where the green iguana has become a huge problem as an invasive species itself. Iguanas bought as pets, or as stowaways on ships to Caribbean islands particularly, have exploded their populations. They have caused huge imbalance to occur in those native ecosystems. For example in Florida the green iguana population grew to such an extent that the over consumption of an endangered plant they were feeding on caused a species of butterfly to actually go extinct.

Part of the response by the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission was asking the public to kill iguana if they saw them on their property. PETA criticised the Wildlife Commission for giving the public cruel and ineffective advice by not properly informing them of humane methods. PETA called for better regulation of their possession as pets. I found out that in 1995 alone 800,000 green iguanas were imported into North America for the pet trade. Hobbyists are often not aware of the care and space needed for iguana to thrive. Iguanas can live for over a decade or longer, and so were being released into the wild. They thrive in the climate in Florida so it caused the massive population explosion.

What got me interested in this story and inspired this piece was going back to the idea that green iguana themselves are not under threat as a global population. In fact they can thrive pretty easily – females can lay up to 80 eggs, they’re pretty adaptable. In Panama – just over the border from Costa Rica – they’re even farmed, to supply the pet trade. However there’s a belief amongst the native people in Costa Rica, that everyone is entitled to kill one iguana a year. This is a 7000-year-old culture of eating iguana, so way before the Americas were colonized by Europeans this was a native practice and the species have remained intact and survived all that time. So to me it seems like a very myopic view that once again seeks to place indigenous cultural practices and beliefs in the crosshairs of Western criticism around conservation practices, but doesn’t adequately acknowledge or address the larger, often capitalist white-supremacist influences at hand – for example the nearly 1 million Iguanas imported every year for pets into North America.

Going back to what I started by saying – whom is this narrative serving?

Habitat loss is glossed over again and again when it comes to looking at some of these really marginalised species populations, really holding onto these scraps of ecosystem. When you look deeper it often reveals a Western capitalist drive for, let’s say for example, expensive tropical hardwoods like rosewood or ebony (you could also say palm oil industry, tourism, monocrops etc). Logging has occurred, and habitat fragmentation. So habitats get smaller and smaller, less able to support a large population of whatever animal you like… and so who does the mainstream conservation narrative blame?

The Millennia-old indigenous cultural and life practices of hunting and living in a very sustainable way. Who does that serve? Because what I would argue is that just serves to prop up the agenda of destruction, of extractive capitalism, of taking resources from countries. It serves a colonial agenda.

I don’t know the answers. There are species with just a few individuals left that have traditionally been hunted by local communities. I am not advocating that nothing should be done to conserve these species. I don’t know the answer to that. This is my visual response to my research.

What I will say is that I believe in 2020 you must question and practice critical thinking,  practice discernment when you are reading about these conservation stories. Because frequently terms like ‘bushmeat’ when used to criticise indigenous life, are actually dog whistle racism terms to prop up back door colonialism, suppressing more and more indigenous cultural practices and sustainable ways of living from communities of land and biodiversity defenders that have been extant on these lands for millennia, and it really helps to divert your attention away from the larger more important issue that we all need to be working to dismantle which is the patriarchal white-supremacist, colonialist systems of oppression.

Now I’ll talk about the aesthetic choices. This orange background – I had this orange drill cotton in my stash and when I pulled it out the first thing that hit me was it really reminded me of the colour of the clothes that inmates are made to wear in some prisons and it helped to ground the colour palette of green and orange. Then I discovered that when threatened or in conflict or stressed, green iguana flush orange. So I really enjoyed this contrast. I think it really ties the narrative.

The two eyes are just to say there’s two ways of seeing things, there’s more than one way of seeing something, and it all ties in with the title of the piece We Will Suppress You. I really wanted to to introduce ambiguity for you the viewer asking the question ‘who is speaking?’ Who is the ‘we’ and who is the ‘you’? Is the iguana the suppressor or are you the viewer? Is the iguana being suppressed?

This was yet further emphasised with this experiment that paid off, having the foot come out of the frame. Again I want to introduce this idea of suppression, coming out to suppress you because it doesn’t belong here, or the victim of being placed in a world it doesn’t belong in. The humans will suppress the natural world, and one agenda will suppress other narratives.

Finally, the framing itself, which was really intrinsic to the overall success of the composition. I was a bit nervous choosing such a thick black frame but I wanted to have the aperture very tight to suggest not enough space, not enough room. That the subject is being contained, and yet with the foot motif, there is this idea of the tension between invasion and suppression.

As always, I’d love to know what you think and what the piece says to you.

You can also read about me and my work in the current issue of Stitch magazine! Get a copy at stitchmag.co.uk

Here’s the original video about this piece:

New Ways To Learn

Hello, a short update from me today, as always a little late.

Lockdown here in the UK afforded me a short respite from my part time work as a key worker (food shop), and I wanted to complete 2 projects to further develop the teaching side of my art.

The first (late) update is my fifth and newest Textile Art Box – Jungle – bringing you the most foundational technique in stumpwork embroidery, the detached wired slip.

The small and simple kit nevertheless provides you with some beautiful hand dyed fabrics and threads from 21st Century Yarns, wires and full instructions to create some lovely 3 dimensional foliage.

I created this kit inspired by my love of jungles and forests, and is yet another product of my time in Costa Rica at the start of the year. I can proudly say once again this kit is totally and completely plastic free, and the box itself was diverted from landfill, as surplus soap packaging.

This little kit is £22 and as always includes a donation to charity. In this case, £1 will go to Survival International, an amazing organisation that advocates for indigenous rights and seeks to take the colonialism out of conservation.

Here’s my unboxing video!:

I worked out today that since launching my Textile Art Boxes in September 2018, we have raised almost £500 in charitable donations, going to the People’s Trust For Endangered Species, Buglife.org and Survival International.

EDIT: Some bad news! Here in the UK international shipping charges have just shot up, beyond a level I can now absorb. So from Monday I will start charging a subsidised shipping fee. Still lower than cost, but not nothing. So shop this weekend if you want free shipping!

My second lockdown project was to produce my second class on Skillshare.

In the grand scheme of online tutorials, it’s admittedly a bit niche and not that sexy. But this mounting tutorial is something I wish I had had access too, and it’s for anyone who wants to display their textile art work with an alternative to hoop-mounting.

I take you through all the stages to get a good smooth stretched finish if you prefer to display in a square, or want to frame your work.

You can take this and my original class Embellishment in Textile Art: A How To Guide, for FREE with this link . You’ll get 2 months access when you sign up to a free, no commitment, cancel anytime trial. It’s a great time to learn new skills, so you’ll be able to take my classes and any of the other thousands on there.

To be completely transparent, watching my classes pays me a royalty, at no cost to you. So it’s a great way to support me and my work. And I promise – cancelling is really easy.

Mount Delectable

I made this piece between 11th April and 16th May, 3 weeks of which I was furloughed from my day job and on lockdown at home. As is frequently the case, the influence of our times – pandemic living – played a large part in the ultimate meaning in this piece.

It all started with this little creature – a Halloween crab, seen in the mangrove swamps lining the beach and the jungle, on a magical day, on a magical artist residency in Costa Rica in January.

I was so delighted to have seen this animal that I began to research it to see if there was any interesting narrative around it I could express in my artform.

When googling ‘halloween crab’ the whole first page of results consisted nearly totally links to ‘how to take care of your cool new pet’ or YouTube videos from ‘alt models’ showing off their – again – latest cool/cute/spooky pet crab. Try it now – you’ll see.

I found this deeply upsetting.

Digging deeper, I stumbled across an article in National Geographic about wildlife trafficking. This is an incredibly complex, depressing and anger-inducing topic. Please be warned, this article contains many extremely upsetting images.

There were two main points in the article that struck me. The demand for ‘exotic’ pets (this is anything that is not domesticated – so if it isn’t a dog, cat or rabbit/guinea pig type, it falls into this category) is hugely linked to illegal wildlife trade. The damage this trade does to species, food webs, ecosystems is catastrophic.

The other point is zoonoses – the spread of disease from animals to humans. In the article, CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) says that their research has shown that the factor most likely to get people to stop supporting wildlife trafficking, and in turn the pet trade, animal ‘medicines’ and ‘exotic meats’ etc., is when the risk to human health is emphasised.

I read this article while still on residency in January. Almost exactly simultaneously, reports started coming out of a new disease that had crossed the human/animal barrier, in China, probably from an animal market in Wuhan.

Obviously I realise this little crab is adjacent to COVID-19. But how far away is it? This piece was my personal response to, first observing this beautiful, magical little animal, at home in it’s – also threatened – natural habitat of mangrove swamp.

When we decide ‘oh, that’s so cool and pretty!’, why does it follow ‘I need to consume that’? And therefore a domino effect of cruelty and suffering ensues.

And here we are, in a global pandemic. Everything is connected. All life.

Nature is not ours for the taking.

In Dante’s ‘Inferno’ there is a mountain in one of the circles of Hell called Mount Delectable. It is beautiful and magical and contains all earthly delights.

Man tries to scale this mountain, and can never reach the top because wild animals and untamed natural forces throw him down.

If you are able, I would encourage you to watch this video I made of me talking more about this piece. As my work becomes more and more informed by research and complex narratives, it is my preference to just film myself speaking, than write it all down.

Thanks for reading.

Vote for Benedict!

Just a quick post to say I am delighted to announce that my artwork A Benediction From The Old World has been shortlisted for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation Wildlife Artist of the Year 2020 exhibition!

I am so honoured to be part of this prestigious event with 50% of all artwork sales going to support David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and their vital conservation work across Africa and Asia.
This year’s exhibition and awards ceremony will be a little different, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic the exhibition and awards ceremony has been moved online. Please visit the online gallery to view the
exhibition and if you are interested in buying my artwork.

There’s lots to view and buy including some amazing original wildlife art plus affordable ‘#SketchForWildlife postcards. Mine is already sold!

It’s free to visit the exhibition online, but please do consider making a £5 donation to DSWF to help fund their vital work.


MOST IMPORTANTLY please vote for my work for the People’s Choice Award to be entered into a free Prize Draw! Just scroll to the foot of the page and fill out the ballot – it takes less than 10 seconds!


Winners will be announced at the online Awards Ceremony on Tuesday 26 May 2020 at 7.30pm GMT and you can register to join us here.